Updated 3:20 p.m. ET, 12/6/2013
Washington (CNN) – After South African icon Nelson Mandela’s death, many took to Twitter to say his life – and the way he forgave those who shackled him for 27 years – brought to light how America’s acrimonious political climate is small, petty and exasperating.
Others proved that point by using the African leader’s death as an opportunity to attack their favorite political bogeymen by sometimes engaging in strained arguments.
On the right: A number of conservative activists and commentators – while paying tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela – knocked him for being “a terrorist” and a number of other monikers demeaning the leader. They point to the fact that he drew support from leaders such as Fidel Castro and Moammar Gadhafi to link him with other Third World revolutionaries who have tended to be anti-American.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, in an appearance on Fox News, even compared apartheid – the brutal suppression of black South Africans that Mandela fought against – to Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care law.
“Nelson Mandela stood up against a great injustice and was willing to pay a huge price for that, and that’s the reason he is mourned today, because of that struggle that he performed,” Santorum said. “I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives, and Obamacare is front and center in that.”
In response to Obama’s comments on Mandela, in which the President said he was “one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life,” Jennifer Rubin, a right-leaning blogger for the Washington Post, used the comparison to knock Obama.
The contras to what Obama says about Mandela as his inspiration and Obama own behavior is stunning.. Petty, buck-passing, passive, nonleader—
Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) December 06, 2013
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz posted a respectful tribute to the leader. His supporters, however, didn’t hold Mandela in the same esteem.
“Sad to see you feel this way Ted. He was a terrorist. I guess you have only seen the Hollywood movies,” posted Tom Griffin in a comment that received 76 likes. “Sorry Ted, I found something I disagree with you on,” posted Dusty Roop. “Mandella was a terrorist. Plain and simple. Hid regime was brutal. He was not a hero. You have listened to lies.”
“Sorry senator u be wrong on this one,” George Taylor posted. “He is nothing or was nothing but a criminal.”
These comments were the tamest of the bunch. Some were too graphic to publish.
Not all commenters agreed with the ugliness.
“For Christ's sake the man just died,” posted Michael Levesque. For that, some called Levesque a “stupid low information Marxist.”
On the left: Shortly after the leader’s death was announced, commentators and journalists on the left began to point out that Mandela was not removed from the U.S. terrorist watch list until 2008 as a way to attack George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan – their long-term villains.
Liberal documentarian Michael Moore tweeted, “Reagan put Nelson Mandela on US terrorist watch list. We didn't get around to taking him off until 2008.”
And the Facebook page Being Liberal used Mandela’s death to slam Bush on the Iraq War.
“If you have ever been supporting George W. Bush and his War in Iraq you are entitled to share Mandela's memes ONLY with a public admission that you were wrong,” the page said by posting a story about Mandela speaking out against the Iraq War. “The best way to honor Mandela's Legacy would be to listen to wise men in the USA AND around the World BEFORE they die.”
Like on Cruz’s Facebook page, many spoke out against using Mandela’s death as a way to score political points.
“Please don't use his death to make us liberals look better or to make someone else, like bush, look bad. That's just not right,” posted Wesley Kayne.
“Is it really too much to ask for you to wait 24 hours before you start using the man as a prop,” wrote Tyler Neafcy.
In an interview on MSNBC, "Hardball" host Chris Matthews said South Africa's last apartheid president, F.W. de Klerk, saw the writing on the wall and released Mandela from prison in order to facilitate the transition to the new South Africa. Matthews compared that struggle to the fight between establishment and tea party Republicans and especially called out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said the "single-most important thing" he wanted to achieve was to make Obama a "one-term" president.
"For him [de Klerk] to recognize his role in history which was to be a patriot at that point is so different than the way Mitch McConnell handled the election of Obama," Matthews said. "We have real people in this country with real power and status who have used that status of power to hurt the country so they could hurt the president."
One other boogeyman left leaning commentators seized upon was former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Mandela was not always a hero to all. Dick Cheney opposed releasing him from prison--and defended this years later. commondreams.org/views/080300-1…—
David Corn (@DavidCornDC) December 05, 2013
As a congressman from Wyoming Cheney did vote against 1986 sanctions against South Africa.
Corn was not alone in quickly pointing out the Cheney connection. Comments on Twitter and Facebook blasted Cheney for not supporting Mandela just hours after Mandela’s death was announced.