Conservative whitewash

Dick Cheney is relying on our cultural amnesia to wipe away his record on South Africa.

Topics: Republican Party, Dick Cheney, Ronald Reagan, Paul Shirley,

Conservative whitewash

“Whitewashing” is the only word to describe the weak explanations offered by Dick Cheney about his votes on South Africa during the apartheid era. Ever since the peaceful advent of democracy in Pretoria, politicians like Cheney who habitually coddled the old racist regime have escaped accountability for their actions. And he is still relying on our customary national amnesia to wave away the questions raised by his vice presidential nomination.

For American conservatives who misused their influence to defend apartheid, the controversy over Cheney’s congressional voting record actually presents an opportunity to own up to their terrible mistakes. Unfortunately, however, Cheney and his supporters have prevaricated and obfuscated rather than admitting forthrightly that they were on the wrong side. This disingenuous response is a poor start for a man who boasts that he and George W. Bush will restore straight talk and integrity to the White House.

Cheney bristled in response to questions about his voting record, revealing a mindset that never understood what was at stake in South Africa — or perhaps understood all too well. Challenged last Sunday to defend his 1985 vote against a House resolution urging the release of Nelson Mandela from 23 years of imprisonment, he first denounced such inquiries as “trivia.” Does he really think that the oppression inflicted on millions of black citizens during more than five decades was a trivial matter?

He quickly tried to correct that gaffe, praising Mandela as “a great man.” (He also remarked, with baffling condescension, that the African leader has “mellowed,” whatever that means.) He had opposed the resolution to free Mandela, according to Cheney, because it was attached to recognition of the African National Congress.

“The ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization,” he said. “Nobody was for keeping Nelson Mandela in prison. Nobody was for supporting apartheid.” Let’s parse that feeble answer, one of several attempts to justify his votes that Cheney has offered in recent days.

The ANC, led of course by Mandela himself, was indeed regarded as “terrorist” by the Pretoria regime and its allies in Washington. But the ANC, which fought militarily and diplomatically for the human rights of South African citizens, was considered a legitimate representative of the black majority by civilized governments almost everywhere else. The resolution Cheney voted against called upon the Pretoria rulers to enter into negotiations with the ANC. That position was endorsed by governments around the world, and has been entirely vindicated by the events that followed.



If the ANC indulged in actions that might be considered “terrorist,” it is at least as true that the entire apparatus of apartheid relied upon terrorism against millions of men, women and children. The Sharpsville massacre and literally hundreds of other atrocities committed against South African blacks and their neighbors in other states deserve no other description. That kind of state terrorism didn’t much trouble the Reaganite ideologues such as Cheney.

Contrary to his sentimentalized recollection of that period, some people were indeed in favor of keeping Mandela behind bars and keeping South African blacks in bondage. The roster of infamy begins with Ronald Reagan, who upon becoming president in 1981 immediately reversed the Carter administration’s policy of pressuring the Afrikaner minority toward democracy and human rights. In an early interview with CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, Reagan called South Africa a “friendly nation” whose reliable anticommunism and wealth of strategic minerals justified stronger ties between Washington and Pretoria.

Overtly and covertly, the Reagan administration moved to strengthen the apartheid regime. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, fought every attempt to impose sanctions. The late William Casey, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, intensified cooperation with the South African Bureau of State Security and military intelligence agencies. He went so far as to secretly visit Pretoria to confer with the racist murderers who ran those agencies.

Meanwhile, of course, the Republican leadership in Congress, including Cheney, also opposed every effort to impose economic sanctions. He voted against sanctions in various forms at least 10 times between 1983 and 1988. There is no evidence that Cheney ever spoke up for freedom and human rights in South Africa — although in that respect he was merely a typical Republican politician of his time.

For Cheney, anticommunism excused a multitude of sins, including his own. Whenever they protected Pretoria from democratic change, conservatives like him would invoke Soviet backing for the ANC and the presence of communists in the ANC leadership. Yet it has long been obvious that the Republican tilt in favor of white supremacy was influenced as much by unsavory stateside domestic politics as by geopolitical concerns.

That sad fact was discovered by Henry Kissinger as early as 1976, when he delivered a stirring speech in Zambia calling for racial justice on the African continent as “an imperative of our own moral heritage.” It was an unusually decent initiative on the part of the old reprobate, who could with some understatement be described as no friend of human rights.

Kissinger was immediately denounced by House Republican leader Robert Michel, later Cheney’s mentor, because of his speech’s “devastating effect” on Ford’s reelection campaign in Southern primaries. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Kissinger, Michel demanded that Ford “muzzle” his secretary of state. Apparently the “Southern strategy” adopted by the party of Lincoln meant appeasing racism, both at home and abroad.

So at a moment when the Republican Party is frantically rebranding itself as tolerant and inclusive, party leaders like Cheney ought to take responsibility for prolonging apartheid. In the spirit of Mandela’s South Africa, they should admit the grievous errors of the past, stop trying to cover up and perhaps even apologize. There can be no reconciliation in the absence of truth.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>