Obama: Mandela 'Makes Me Want to Be a Better Man'

Bushes join Obamas on flight to memorial service

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Dec 10, 2013 1:30 AM CST | Updated Dec 10, 2013 7:44 AM CST

(Newser) – 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.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at Waterkloof Air Base this morning.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Obama, Michelle Obama, and George W. Bush are greeted as they arrive at Waterkloof Air Base in South Africa this morning.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Barrack Obama speaks to crowds attending the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
President Barrack Obama acknowledges applause before speaking at the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
President Barack Obama waves as he arrives to speak to crowds attending the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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Barack Obama's full speech.   (YouTube)

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