Politics & Policy

Clinton Campaigned for Mandela’s Jailer

On Mandela, Cheney voted the same way as Clinton's pal.

Apparently forgetting that he’s not running for anything this cycle, President Bill Clinton let loose Sunday with an angry attack on someone who is: Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney. Clinton was outraged (outraged!) about a much-discussed 1986 vote that Cheney cast when he was the lone Representative from Wyoming

“Now, all the big publicity is about, in the last few days, an amazing vote cast by their vice-presidential nominee when he was in Congress against letting Nelson Mandela out of jail,” the president said. “That takes your breath away.”

If the Cheney vote took his breath away, Clinton might well be on his knees, red-faced, clutching his throat and gasping for air when he learns that 32 of his fellow Democrats voted with Cheney, against the resolution.

And he might be thoroughly asphyxiated if he knew he spent all day Monday campaigning for someone who had cast the exact same vote: Florida Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson.

Nelson for Senate campaign spokesman Dan McLaughlin said, “Bottom line is that Nelson strongly supported two components of the measure, and he considers Mandela one of the century’s great leaders. He could not support the third [component], recognizing ANC because it was dominated by the communist party. This vote should be looked at in context.”

McLaughlin added, “I don’t think the president would question Nelson’s record.”

Clinton attended three fundraisers today for Nelson, a Democrat vying for the seat of retiring Republican Senator Connie Mack. Estimates before these events, benefiting the Nelson campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, put their collective value at $1.15 million.

Clinton’s comments were somewhat more charitable than those he aimed at Cheney 24 hours earlier. “I want to say that I’m honored to be here for Bill Nelson. I’ve known Bill for, I don’t know, years and years and years, a long time. And he and Grace have been friends of Hillary and mine for years. They and their children came over to the White House and stayed with us. And we’ve had the opportunity over the years at various encounters to get to know one another, and I think the world of both of them.”

“I think we need more people like them in Washington, people who are civil and decent and reasonable and caring, and not just in election season, not just as a part of a marketing strategy, but because they think it’s the right thing to do

All of this comes only days after one “Democratic strategist” told New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum that plans were already underway to run radio ads highlighting the Cheney vote on predominantly black radio stations throughout the country. And it comes only one month after Al Gore appeared on stage with Nelson as part of the vice president’s ill-fated “prosperity and progress” tour, netting a cool $1 million for the Democratic Party.

The Nelson and Cheney votes are far from the radical position Democrats and the media have suggested. On its face, a vote to keep Nelson Mandela in jail is troubling, to say the least: Who — as Cheney has asked repeatedly in interviews — would want to keep Mandela imprisoned? As always, context is crucial in understanding congressional votes. Republicans, then in the minority, tried without success to attach conditions to Mandela’s release. Specifically, they wanted language requiring Mandela to renounce violence by his party, the African National Congress, and assuring that the Communist elements of the party, which were significant, be ousted from leadership. In fact, so strong was the Communist faction of the ANC that Democrats refused to include the Republican language, arguing that that negotiation with Communists was inevitable and necessary, given their power. Democrats then put the resolution to a vote without the GOP language, and it failed.

Nelson, who was unavailable for comment because he was at the third of the three fundraisers with the president, may have been concerned about the ANC’s strong Marxist faction. It was a judgment that some 145 Republicans and 31 other Democrats — including current congressmen Charlie Stenholm, Ike Skelton, and William Lipinski — made at the time.

And, as Clinton said today, Nelson has good judgment. “I know we ought to have people in the Senate who have the values and the judgment, and just the way of operating that Bill Nelson does.”

Same true for vice president?

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