December 8th, 2013

Gingrich fires back at Mandela critics

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley,  Newt Gingrich, co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire” and former Speaker of the House spoke with Candy Crowley about why he thinks Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest leaders of our time, and about the backlash he received on Facebook for saying so. 

A transcript is available after the jump.

CROWLEY: Welcome back. Let me show you some pictures. They are crowds celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela outside his house in Johannesburg today. Amazing that such a celebration over there certainly sadness but has been largely been a celebration. Joining me for more on Nelson Mandela, CNN CROSSFIRE host, Newt Gingrich.

You wrote a Facebook page and put out a statement praising Nelson Mandela, a man you supported very early on. You were supporter of sanctions against South Africa for apartheid. You wrote that on your Facebook and then we’re surprised by some of the reaction you got. And I’m just going to read them for folks, a couple of them.

“Such an amazing rewrite of history since 1962 and 1990. Newt, I thought you of all people, a historian, would be true to who this guy really was.” And then from someone else, “this clenched-fist murdering, guerrilla warrior does not deserve respect from informed Americans.” What do you make from this backlash?

NEWT GINGRICH, CNN CROSSFIRE HOST: I was very surprised by it. I posted my statement on her Facebook page and was amazed at some of the intensity, some of whom came back three, four, and five times repeating how angry they were.

So I wrote my newsletter, Gingrich Productions, on Friday. Basically, I entitled it, what would you have done? And you know, everybody says they love freedom. Everybody who is proud of the farmers at Lexington and Concord who stood up to the British Army. Everybody who is grateful to George Washington for eight years in the field fighting the British Empire, here you are. You emerge as a young man. He actually went to a Methodist school. And Mandela went on to be largely a nonviolent person.

CROWLEY: A lawyer.

GINGRICH: A lawyer. Tried in court very effectively used his role as defendant. And then you get the takeover in the late ’40s by the very, very aggressively, I would say savagely pro-apartheid party, largely (ph) Afrikaans. And all of your options are gone.

I mean you’re now up against an oppressive dictatorship, which if you’re African, and if you’re black means that you are going to be in effect in a police state. And he was one of the people who was opposed to it.

Now ironically, most of the things people complain about occurred during the 27 years he was in prison. And so I tried…

CROWLEY: The necklace thing comes up a lot.

GINGRICH: All of that stuff occurs while he’s in jail. Now the two points that I make to people about Mandela personally are, first of all, this very long, deep commitment to freedom, which I think most of us could identify with. And second, that after 27 years in prison, he doesn’t come out bitter. He doesn’t come out angry. He comes out as an extraordinarily wise man, who actually invites his prison guard to sit in the front row at his inauguration as president.

CROWLEY: Do you think that this outpouring online, at least on your Facebook, and Ted Cruz also put out a very complimentary statement and saluting Nelson Mandela and got the same kind of pushback, do you think that these are fellow conservatives? Do you have any — who do you think these folks are?

GINGRICH: I think there are some people who bought a rationale that defined everybody who were in any way in rebellion against the established system in the third world as anti-American. I don’t think they were. I think that the – we in many cases we were – we were the symbol of what they wanted to – we were the kind of country they wanted to become.

But I do think there are people who have sustained this kind of mythology. And there is no question that in the ’50s, Mandela moved from a nonviolent model towards being allied with the communists. And my point to conservatives is there weren’t any conservative allies. Churchill’s ally was Stalin during World War II. And I think in a similar tradition, Mandela was desperate by that stage. He saw the scale of the oppression. And the only allies that were available, frankly, were on the hard left.

CROWLEY: As you well know, President Ronald Reagan opposed putting sanctions on South Africa for its apartheid government. He rejected calls for Mandela to be released. Same with Margaret Thatcher, another leading conservative of the time. We know they were very focused on communism and South Africa had been the — the South African government had been an ally. But they were on the wrong side of history.

GINGRICH: Well they were. In all fairness to Reagan, Reagan’s ambassador to South Africa consistently put pressure on the government to modify its position, and consistently condemned apartheid. But their — their commitment was to defeat the Soviet empire. Frankly they underestimated the importance of Islamic terrorism because they didn’t want to think about it.

I mean they had one goal, which was a pretty big goal, which was to defeat the Soviet empire, and they succeeded. And in the process, they weren’t willing to be diverted to what they would have called secondary issues, when you look at the worldwide scale of the Cold War. I think there’s no question that you had a continued American effort to end apartheid. There were arguments about how —


CROWLEY: They weren’t pro apartheid, they were just against sanctions.

GINGRICH: They were against sanctions. At the same time, for example I met at the time with Chief Buthelezi of the Zulu, and he was against sanctions. There was a really split argument inside South Africa, but a group of us decided in the end, a number of younger conservatives at that time, Bob Walker, Vin Weber, myself, to lead an effort. They argued if you’re pro freedom, then you can’t possibly be tolerant of apartheid.

CROWLEY: Newt Gingrich, thank you. Always interesting, appreciate it.