The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
U.S. President Barack Obama pays his respect to former South African President Nelson Mandela U.S. President Barack Obama pays his respect to former South African President Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel after his speech at the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at the First National Bank stadium, also known as Soccer City, in Johannesburg Dec. 10, 2013. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)  

Mandela’s funeral: An incongruous opportunity to preen and pose

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Nelson Mandela’s funeral has been used an opportunity for ambitious politicians to strut and pose, to advance their careers and claims, says Mark Leibovich, author and chief correspondent for The New York Times Magazine.

“A big-ticket funeral can become a great theater for preening and networking and peacocking, the kinds of things that people in media and politics are known for,” Leibovich told The Daily Caller.

President Barack Obama flew down there on his huge blue-and-white Air Force One, to give a 19-minute speech about the lessons that Nelson Mandela could teach Americans and their politicians. He made sure to be seen with Mandela’s wife and with numerous other people who were more eager to be seen with him.

So many other D.C. luminaries attended the gala that the U.S. Air Force had to provide an additional jet. Rep. Aaron Shock, an Illinois Republican, announced via Instagram “All aboard! Taking off with 23 of my colleagues to Nelson Mandela’s memorial services. #amazinglife #mandela”

Was “he referring to Nelson Mandela’s amazing life or his own amazing life?” Leibovich said. “Is this about the departed or is this about you?”

One of Shock’s supporters, “turquoisethompson,” added a comment, “I’m jealous Aaron! What an amazing opportunity!”

The global display in Johannesburg is somewhat incongruous because Mandela’s accomplishments were earned in a hard-nosed political environment, far from Washington D.C.’s daily strut by ambitious professionals, he said.

Leibovich described the 2008 funeral of newsman Tim Russert, in his bestselling book, “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital.”

“Tim Russert is dead. But the room was alive.

You can’t work it too hard at a memorial service, obviously.

It’s the kind of thing people notice. But the big-ticket Washington departure rite can be such a great networking opportunity. You can almost feel the ardor behind the solemn faces: lucky stampedes of power mourners, about two thousand of them, wearing out the red-carpeted aisles of the Kennedy Center.

… Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski are mobbed as well; they can barely get to their seats: assaulted with kudos for the success of Morning Joe, their dawn roundtable on MSNBC and a popular artery in the bloodstream of the Leading Thinkers.”

At a “big-ticket memorial service, you can get a lot done” for your career, Leibovich told TheDC.

Outside funerals, “you can see people eating lunch at The Palm [restaurant], you can see people in meetings, you can see them cavorting with people worth knowing,” Leibovich said.

In D.C., he said, “there’s a great premium on this — this is how people measure their worth and how other people measure their worth.”

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