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December 10, 2013 4:27 PM South African Skeletons

By Ed Kilgore

It happened gradually, but Republicans associated with the fight against civil rights in the South have pretty much died off (which is very helpful to the revisionist effort to pretend that the GOP remains The Party of Civil Rights), though their doctrines have lived on. The death of Nelson Mandela, however, has revived some embarrassing memories for a later generation of conservatives who provided either active or passive support for the apartheid regime and/or said nasty things about Mandela.

It’s become a real problem for the Cheney family, as MoJo’s Tim Murphy points out today:

In a 1988 op-ed for her college newspaper, Liz Cheney, the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney who is now running for the Republican Senate nomination in Wyoming (and kicking up a family feud and a GOP civil war), had a stern message for anti-apartheid activists campaigning for freedom in South Africa: “frankly, nobody’s listening.”
The Cheney family has a complicated history regarding South Africa and the effort to end the racist regime that ruled that nation for 46 years. When he was a congressman, Dick Cheney voted against imposing economic sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid government and opposed a resolution calling for Nelson Mandela to be released from prison, saying Mandela was a “terrorist”—a position Cheney defended as recently as 2000, when he ran for vice president. Liz Cheney, who is hoping to unseat three-term GOP Sen. Mike Enzi, has not spoken publicly on Mandela since his death last week. Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In the 1980s, when Liz Cheney was attending Colorado College, a campus group called the Colorado College Community Against Apartheid led regular demonstrations to push the college to adopt a policy of divestment—a form of economic protest in which the college would agree not to invest in companies that had business interests in South Africa. Throughout the country in those years, students at universities and colleges were pushing administrations and boards to dump their investments in firms that engaged in commerce with South Africa, including such corporate powerhouses as IBM. The Colorado College group, as did protesters on other campuses, constructed a “shanty town” on the quad, and it organized an on-stage demonstration at the school’s 1987 graduation ceremony. That year’s commencement speaker: Liz Cheney’s mother, Lynne.

Murphy goes on to note that student journalist Liz Cheney went out of her way to oppose apartheid, and argued that what conservatives often called “economic engagement” with the South African regime could in the long run empower its black citizens. But still, she should probably clear the air by joining memorials to Mandela instead of maintaining what sure looks like an embarrassed silence.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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