- (Photo: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach)
President Obama is receiving plenty of criticism for his selfie cellphone portrait at the funeral of South Africa's revered leader, Nelson Mandela. What the president had to say in tribute to Africa's greatest statesman was largely overshadowed by the press pictures of Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and Denmark's shapely blonde chief of government, Helle Thorning Schmidt. The three leaders are shown, dressed appropriately enough in mourning black. But they are seen yucking it up like teenagers while First Lady Michelle Obama sits up attentively, the perfect picture of dignity and respect - and keeping her distance from the antics.
It's not as if President Obama didn't have time to prepare himself for the passing of this man he called Madiba. That respectful name is an important one to consider in light of the disrespectful behavior of the three leaders. We have known this day was coming for many years.
One of the first and most symbolic acts of the Obama presidency was his removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. That was a signal of many changes to come, not all of them hopeful. Mr. Obama might have learned some lessons from the life and death of Winston Churchill.
For one thing, young Churchill went to South Africa during the Boer War, more than a century ago. Heirs of those 17th century Dutch settlers whose descendants would later imprison Nelson Mandela captured Churchill. When the Boers put a 25-pound reward on Churchill's head, seeking his recapture dead or alive, young Winston learned a valuable lesson in freedom. Nelson Mandela learned the same lesson in an almost unbelievable twenty-seven year captivity, much of it on Robben Island.
Churchill hated his captivity and quickly arranged an escape, through a prison lavatory. He came out of that South African prison a world figure, in no small measure because he made himself one. He never believed in hiding his light under a bushel. Young and brash, Churchill resolved to make noise wherever he went.
Nelson Mandela's long imprisonment taught him restraint and cloaked him with the dignity and spiritual strength of a martyr.
Like the South Africans mourning today, the government of Great Britain-known as Her Majesty's Government--had years to prepare for the passing of their greatest son. They planned and rehearsed every detail of Operation Hope Not, the great state funeral that would come when Winston Churchill finally died.
That day came in January, 1965. An America historian, Hungarian-born John Lukacs, recorded the pomp and ceremony of the frigid London scene. He paid a memorable tribute to the man who had so long warned of the menace of a vengeful, rearmed Germany. This man led Britain when that island fortress against the Nazis:
"[Churchill saw the evil incarnated by Hitler instantly, immediately. Then he rose like a hero, highest in those months of 1940 when the future of human decency was at stake, and when Jewry and Christianity were on the same side…which was his side."
Yes, and decades later, a Polish survivor of Hitler's murderous concentration camps would recall: "We didn't have bread, but we had Churchill." At Churchill's funeral, America was honorably represented by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the five-star general who had led the allies to victory in that great Crusade in Europe.
Hitler's cruelty to the Jews and contempt for the Christians did not die in that Berlin Fürerbunker in 1945. That spirit of hatred lives on in Iran today. There, the mullahs torture Pastor Saeed Abedini in his prison. His only crime in Iran is to seek to share the Gospel with people he loves.
The Iranian mullahs have boasted that their neighbor, Israel, is just a "two-bomb country," one whose extermination they seek even more brazenly than Hitler sought the elimination of Europe's Jews.
It is this Iranian regime, ruled by these mullahs, that President Obama will now trust to keep its word on the interim, 6-month agreement. It is agreement that will allow thousands of centrifuges to continue spinning. These are an essential element of developing nuclear weapons.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry think we should focus on Iran's nuclear weapons and not on those who will wield those weapons. It is the classical liberal error. They do not know human nature.
Nelson Mandela understood human nature and may be best remembered for his great quality of forgiveness. He never lost that light heart, either, as this video of the 85-year old dancing in Ireland shows.
It's a pity our leaders didn't dance; instead, they pranced.