Nelson Mandela Expanded Government Health Care. Rick Santorum Uses His Death to Attack It.

What Women Really Think
Dec. 6 2013 3:22 PM

Nelson Mandela Expanded Government Health Care. Rick Santorum Uses His Death to Attack It.

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Mourners gather to honor late South African former president Nelson Mandela at an inter-faith service in Cape Town.

Photo by JENNIFER BRUCE/AFP/Getty Images

That many on the right would rush to be seen praising Nelson Mandela in the hours after his death was so predictable that journalists had the "actually, Republicans fought him tooth and nail every step of the way" pieces ready to launch. As is his wont, Rick Santorum really outshone the competition by trying to appropriate Mandela for his own ends in the most mind-bogglingly ignorant way possible. While on Bill O'Reilly's show, Santorum hijacked Mandela's legacy to whine about social welfare programs. Mandela "was fighting against some great injustice," said Santorum, "and 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.”

My colleague Josh Voorhees sarcastically called it a "completely natural leap." "Leap" it certainly was, as even Santorum clearly wasn't suggesting that he agreed with Mandela's point of view on social welfare. After all, he nodded along when O'Reilly characterized Mandela as a "communist." But it was worse than just a leap to exploit Mandela's death to mount an attack on health care reform, since Mandela helmed a move to expand health care access to everyone in the country. South Africa's health care system is in shambles, but 80 percent of the population looks to public health care to provide for their needs. In order to fix the wildly inequitable current system, the government is trying to expand it even further to create a national health service, to meet the health care goals set out by Mandela's administration.

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Mandela was also a huge supporter of the reproductive rights Santorum opposes. He helped secure for women the right to abortion. In 1996, he signed a law that not only legalized abortion on demand for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but guaranteed that the government would pay for it if you don't have insurance coverage. The Guttmacher Institute characterized South Africa's abortion policy as "one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world." Mandela didn't just fight "against some great injustice," in Santorum's words. He fought against many.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

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