It speaks volumes about Nelson Mandela’s political transcendence that this former militant socialist was just praised by a conservative like Newt Gingrich as “one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime.”

Of course the far right would move quickly to condemn Gingrich, one of their own, for buying into the international consensus of Mandela’s greatness. He was not simply South Africa’s first black president, but, in the words of one Facebook commenter, “a commie murderer!!” Gingrich said he was “surprised by the hostility and vehemence of some of the people who reacted to me saying a kind word about a unique historic figure,” and, to his credit, challenged his detractors: “What would you do here in America if you had that kind of oppression?”

The argument on the right is mirrored on the left, where commentators, including Truthdig editor Robert Scheer, have lamented that, like Martin Luther King, Mandela’s more radical positions have been whitewashed.

Maybe so, but Mandela’s emergence as a beloved, politically transcendent icon has been, while perhaps a loss to historians and the whole truth, a boon to the cause of freedom. Symbols have tremendous importance, particularly where hopeless causes are concerned. It is vital for those engaged in any struggle to know what their predecessors have achieved in the face of great power. Just as Martin Luther King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s ability to peacefully fast and march the British Empire off of the subcontinent, generations to come will look to Mandela and know that a man in prison can usurp his tyrannical, evil government. They will know his name because everyone from Ralph Nader to Newt Gingrich has agreed on his greatness.

It is a rare figure who achieves this level of recognition without an untimely death or turning water to wine. What justice that this man, confined for 27 long, hard years, was able to live to 95. He should have gotten 100 more.

For his concrete achievements and inspirational leadership, we raise a cup to the great Madiba, Nelson Mandela, our Truthdigger of the week.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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