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U.S. leaders should follow Mandela lead

Nelson Mandela’s distinctive approach to leadership is that much more inspiring when contrasted with the so-called leaders of today at all levels of government in America.

Whereas Mandela struggled for national unity, our politicians usually seek division. Whereas Mandela freely forgave his tormenters, our leaders never forget the slightest insult. Whereas Mandela sought reconciliation, our leaders often seek retribution.

While Mandela was quietly dignified, our leaders more often are loud and indecorous.

If anyone had cause to harbor bitterness and pursue revenge, it was Mandela. He spent 27 years in prison, often in abhorrent conditions, because of his moral convictions. Instead, he invited his white jailer to his presidential inauguration in 1994. One former jailer, Christo Brand, told Time magazine: “He was my prisoner. But he was my father.”

Oh, how much stronger America, and North Carolina and Charlotte, could be if our leaders displayed a fraction of the ambition Mandela had for his country rather than for himself. Perhaps sometime, somewhere Mandela’s example will guide one of our elected leaders to make a different decision or take a different approach. We would all be better for it.

Obama’s uncle

President Barack Obama’s credibility took another hit last week when the White House revealed that it had inaccurately suggested two years ago that he had never met an uncle who faced deportation to Kenya. Not only had the president met Onyango Obama, he lived with him briefly in the 1980s and saw him many times after that.

The White House told the Boston Globe in 2011 that it had no record of President Obama meeting his father’s half-brother. But on Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said in fact he had.

Carney said White House officials never asked Obama at the time whether he had met his uncle. They suggested to the public he hadn’t based on what they could find in the public record, including books Obama authored, Carney said.

This is laughable. It is impossible to believe that President Obama didn’t either authorize that misleading information to be released or was at least aware that it had been once it had. At that point, his silence spoke volumes.

Sunshine laws

Elon University released a discouraging poll last week. Researchers found that almost two thirds of North Carolinians don’t know there are laws on the books that make most government documents and meetings open to the public.

The poll found 65 percent were not aware of the state’s so-called sunshine laws.

Government leaders will surely be encouraged to keep things secret if the public is so indifferent about having access to its own business. Secrecy and transparency constantly battle in government, and secrecy will win out if the public and press don’t vigorously fight for their right to know. North Carolinians’ ignorance on this issue could come back to haunt them.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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