President Obama offered a stirring eulogy to his personal hero Nelson Mandela in South Africa today, calling him "a giant of history." Some highlights of the speech (the full text of which is here):
- Obama said it was tempting to imagine Mandela as a perfect icon. "But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait," insisting on sharing his flaws, doubts, and fears. "He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood."
- "Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don’t. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls."
- Obama recalled Mandela's gestures of reconciliation, like inviting his jailors to his inauguration, or wearing a Springbok uniform. "It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you."
- Mandela "set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man."
White House aides say Obama began crafting his 20-minute remarks for the memorial after Mandela's passing last week. Obama arrived on Air Force One along with Michelle Obama, George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were also scheduled to attend the memorial service, but traveled to South Africa separately. There were more than 90 heads of state in all at the ceremony. Among them: Raul Castro, who was also scheduled to give a eulogy. Obama shook the Cuban leader's hand, a significant gesture given the thorny history between their respective countries.