A few days ago, Eric L Wattree, a regular on dagblog, posted about why he thought Barack Obama will be remembered as a great president. In the comments there ensued a discussion of who were the greatest presidents, whether Obama, Clinton, Reagan, or Carter will be remembered as great or ordinary, and what determines greatness in office.
With the death of Nelson Mandela, I couldn’t help wondering what an American president would have had to endure and accomplish to be considered in the same breath with Mandela.
Suppose Frederick Douglass, after escaping torture by the slavebreaker at Mt Misery, didn’t safely escape to the North in 1838. Suppose he had non-violently protested against the slavery condoned by the US government, then later organized attacks on US government targets. Suppose instead of being executed he had been imprisoned for almost three decades. Suppose he had led the antislavery movement from within prison, had been released after international pressure, had negotiated an end to slavery, avoiding the Civil War, then was elected US President in 1868.
For a black man to endure such a chain of events then bring about the end of white rule of a nation sounds preposterous, but that was essentially what Mandela did in South Africa.