With the passing of Nelson Mandela yesterday, it was a metaphysical certainty that the media would draw parallels between the legendary South African leader and Barack Obama. So it was not a surprise when it happened during a tribute package at the beginning of Friday’s Morning Joe.
As triumphant footage of Mandela rolled on the screen, co-host Mika Brzezinski read a scripted narrative:
"When he was released from prison, he was greeted by a jubilant crowd in Cape Town, black and white alike, and his plight inspired a young college student who would change history himself."
When Mika read the second half of that sentence, an image appeared on the screen of Obama standing in Mandela’s old prison cell. It’s true that President Obama drew inspiration from Mandela, but to say that Obama would “change history” himself is a bit much. Obama will be notable to historians as the first black president of the United States, just as Mandela was the first black president of his country, but he is nowhere near the figure of world stature that Mandela was and is.
Mandela dramatically altered the course of history in South Africa by ending apartheid. Will Obama’s presidency dramatically alter the course of history in the United States? It’s too early to tell, but as of now it hasn’t happened. For Mika to say that President Obama would change history himself is premature.
Below is a transcript of the segment:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: It would have been groundbreaking enough to become South Africa's first black president, but Nelson Mandela was so much more. Not only to his own country but to people the world over. The freedom fighter has died at the age of 95. Madeba, as he was known, sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison so that his countrymen might be free from the bonds of apartheid.
NELSON MANDELA: Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I, therefore, have placed the remaining years of my life in your hands.
BRZEZINSKI: When he was released from prison, he was greeted by a jubilant crowd in Cape Town, black and white alike, and his plight inspired a young college student who would change history himself.
BARACK OBAMA: I'm one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. The day he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.