Time Editor Compares Obama to Nelson Mandela

Legendary South African leader Nelson Mandela is in the hospital today with a lung infection, and MSNBC could not resist using the occasion to compare President Obama to Mr. Mandela. During a discussion with Time managing editor Richard Stengel on her daily program, Andrea Mitchell showed a picture of then-Senator Obama visiting South Africa’s first black president in 2005. Mitchell cooed, “You can imagine the role that Mandela played just in the imagination of a young Barack Obama and all of his generation.”

Stengel picked up on that thread. “And I think, you know, there are similarities between President Obama and Nelson Mandela, I think, in terms of their temperament, in terms of their approach to problems as pragmatists.


There’s the media’s favorite label for Mr. Obama: pragmatist. They would like us to believe that Obama is above partisan squabbling, and that he always opts for the best practical solution to a problem. Of course, if that were the case, he would be allowing federal agencies to cut waste from their budgets right now in order to lessen the effects of the sequester. President Obama’s policies often reflect liberal activism rather than pragmatism, and an honest journalist would note that, even if, and especially if, that journalist leans to the left politically.

It seems silly, in general, to compare Obama to Nelson Mandela. Mr. Mandela helped to end apartheid and unite the races in his country; President Obama, in spite of his normally calm temperament, has attempted to divide American society along class lines with rhetoric that repeatedly inflames financial envy and class warfare "you didn't build that" rhetoric.

This is not the first time Stengel has drawn a comparison between these two black heads of state. In 2010, Stengel wrote that Obama had “achieved a Mandela-like temperament without the long years of sacrifice,” referring to Mandela’s 27 years in prison. He also claimed that “Obama is in many ways [Mandela’s] true successor on the world stage” because their views were both formed in the context of racial politics.

Put down the Kool Aid, Richard, you're embarrassing yourself.

Below is a transcript of the exchange:

ANDREA MITCHELL: And by the way, we are now showing a picture of then-Senator Obama visiting Mandela. If we can go back to that other slide as well. That was a picture from 2005, when Senator Obama visited Mandela, already frail, and you can imagine the role that Mandela played just in the imagination of a young Barack Obama and all of his generation. But continue, Rick.

RICHARD STENGEL: And I think, you know, there are similarities between President Obama and Nelson Mandela, I think, in terms of their temperament, in terms of their approach to problems as pragmatists. I think -- I don't know this for a fact, but I think the president looks to Mandela as a model in that respect.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.