On Friday morning CNN hosted Richard Stengel, an Obama administration nominee, to discuss the President's connections to the late Nelson Mandela without disclosing Stengel's pending State Department position.
Stengel is the former managing editor of Time magazine and hailed Obama's "eloquent" words: "I thought the President was very eloquent yesterday, talking about what President Mandela meant to him. I think, in many ways, Mandela was partially responsible for Barack Obama's own political awakening."
Stengel has compared the two men before, noting similarities in "temperament" and calling both men "pragmatists."
He also wrote in his Mandela biography:
"While it took twenty-seven years in prison to mold the Nelson Mandela we know, the forty-eight-year-old American president seems to have achieved a Mandela-like temperament without the long years of sacrifice."
Stengel talked about their connection twice on Friday morning, and neither time did CNN disclose that he will soon be the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. "I think every world leader, including President Obama, wants to borrow a little bit from the halo of Nelson Mandela," Stengel noted.
He explained how Obama's visit to South Africa will be a search for his "roots":
"But in the case of President Obama, a mixed-race president, a man whose father was from the continent of Africa, the same continent as Nelson Mandela, I think he's both looking to touch base with almost some of his roots and also be a part of this grand increase in human freedom that Nelson Mandela helped usher in and which he has talked about."
Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on December 6 on CNN Newsroom at 9:21 a.m. EST:
WOLF BLITZER: We want to take a closer look now at Nelson Mandela's political legacy, specifically his impact on President Obama, whom he met back in 2005 when Obama was then a junior senator, a freshman senator from the state of Illinois. Rick Stengel is joining us from New York. He's the former managing editor of Time magazine. He's also collaborated on the important book "Long Walk to Freedom," the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Stengel is also the author, by the way, of "Mandela's Way: Lessons on Life, Love and Courage." Rick, thanks very much for joining us. Talk a little bit about this relationship between President Mandela and President Obama.
RICHARD STENGEL, former managing editor, Time magazine: You know, Wolf, I thought the President was very eloquent yesterday, talking about what President Mandela meant to him. I think, in many ways, Mandela was partially responsible for Barack Obama's own political awakening. And he said it was the first political, overtly political act that he had ever taken.
And I think one of the great legacies of Mandela, particularly in America, is that it was an awakening for so many people, that people were looking at South Africa, this land that with terrible prejudice, terrible authoritarian government, and we were looking at it as almost a proxy for what had happened in America during the civil rights movement, and I think it awakened and it was a revelation for many, many Americans.
BLITZER: I'm sure President Obama, and I'm sure you'll agree, was deeply disappointed when he was in South Africa earlier this year, with his family, he was not able to go and meet President Mandela, because he was so gravely ill. I'm sure he would have loved to have done that, but he obviously couldn't. He'll head to South Africa in the coming days for the funeral. This will be an important event not only for President Obama but for the United States.
STENGEL: Yes, and again, Wolf, Mandela has not been himself for a number of years. I think it was understandable that he wasn't able to meet with the President. Mandela is a man of such great pride. The last few years when his memory was failing him, he was – he felt awkward, seeing people.
But I do think it's a great opportunity for President Obama, President Obama has had an important and deep focus on Africa, the young African leaders initiative that he started as something that he cares a great deal about. So, I think it will be an important moment when he does go over there for the funeral.
WOLF BLITZER: The President will be heading over to South Africa to pay his respects, to pay America's respects to Nelson Mandela. What will you be looking for when the President is there? What should we be paying attention to?
RICHARD STENGEL: Wolf, I think every world leader, including President Obama, wants to borrow a little bit from the halo of Nelson Mandela. But in the case of President Obama, a mixed-race president, a man whose father was from the continent of Africa, the same continent as Nelson Mandela, I think he's both looking to touch base with almost some of his roots and also be a part of this grand increase in human freedom that Nelson Mandela helped usher in and which he has talked about. Even last night he used that great line from Martin Luther King about the world bending towards justice. And I think – Nelson Mandela helped the world bend in that direction.