‘Power Mourners': Obama, Congressmen, Global Pals Milk Mandela Memorial For Photos, Networking, Sanctimony

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There are pictures of First Lady Michelle Obama looking nonplussed as her husband yaks it up with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. There’s an Obama selfie, taken with Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron. There’s a picture of Obama deferentially shaking hands with budding Cuban dictator Raul Castro; another of Obama and de facto Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe.

Narcissus couldn’t have gotten arrested at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service Tuesday in South Africa, where cheesy gladhanding and sanctimonious speechifying prevailed over decorum and dignity.

In a political culture where having any name at all matters more than having a good name, Monday’s Mandela service didn’t merely attract the President and his entourage. With the exception of George H.W. Bush, all former living U.S. Presidents made the trip – though none managed Cameron’s or Obama’s feat of luring the spotlight toward themselves.

The spillover of American dignitaries meant the Air Force had to provide a second plane. Illinois Republican Congressman Aaron Schock (yes, this Aaron Schock ) even shouted this out to his peeps – er, constituents – on Instagram:

All aboard! Taking off with 23 of my colleagues to Nelson Mandela’s memorial services. #amazinglife #mandela

“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,” Mark Leibovich, chief correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, told The Daily Caller Tuesday. “…Is this about the departed or is this about you?” Leibovich famously referred to the hangers-on at deceased NBC journalist Tim Russert’s memorial service as “power mourners” in his recent D.C.-insider book, an appellation that again applied to many of the dignitaries at Tuesday’s service.

Maybe there’s a silver lining when pop culture showboats like Obama blows off solemn occasions like Margaret Thatcher’s state funeral or the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Gettysburg Address: those events get to preserve decorum and remain true to their purpose, without commanding a disgraceful Internet audience based on vapid star appeal.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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