A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A ‘Mandela moment’ of real reconciliation?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Dec. 12, 13 or 14

Last weekend’s church readings included a passage from Isaiah: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.”

Neither wolf nor lamb, this column nevertheless occasionally has been disappointed with or disagreed with U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria). However, in a 72-hour span, the 32-year-old Republican took two actions that deserve acknowledgment and praise. On Sunday, his office announced that he’s leading the Congressional delegation to this week’s memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

Two days before, Schock introduced the Family Cord Blood Banking Act.

In fact, within days, a variety of encouraging moments seemed to point to common ground, maybe even reconciliation.

Elsewhere, the head of the sometimes haughty hierarchy of the Catholic Church preached humility, saying, “The people Jesus tried to find most of all were the biggest sinners.”

Conservative and Catholic Bill O’Reilly in Washington praised self-described “left-wing liberal Democrat” and jazz virtuoso Herbie Hancock at Kennedy Center Honors.

And Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were together on Air Force One heading to the Mandela service, which featured a variety of world figures, from British billionaire Richard Branson to Cuba President Raul Castro.

Schock said, “I have always had great respect for former president Mandela. The personal sacrifices he made in order to achieve what was right for the people of South Africa is something I carry with me every day.”

Mandela’s struggle against racist apartheid in South Africa led to his 27-year imprisonment. Schock was 10 years old when Mandela was freed, after which Mandela helped negotiate an end to white minority rule and unify the South African people, and was elected South Africa’s President in 1994.

“President Mandela’s commitment to improve the lives of those around him at the expense of his own freedoms demonstrates the best in mankind,” Schock said. “It is impossible to imagine what his time in solitude was like, but to emerge and lead the efforts of reconciliation in his country is truly remarkable. His example of servant leadership – voluntarily leaving office after one term – set an example of democratic change for South Africans and the world over. Nelson Mandela's forgiveness, leadership, and class will always inspire me.”

Since American conservatives including Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, Phyllis Schlafly, Dick Cheney and Ronald Reagan for years blasted Mandela and his anti-apartheid African National Congress, it probably wasn’t easy for Schock to stand up for Mandella. Well done, Mr. Congressman.

As to the Family Cord Blood Banking Act, Schock’s measure would recognize umbilical cord blood as a medical expense that could be paid through Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts. Umbilical cord blood is unique, with a high concentration of stem cells that has various medical uses.

“Cord blood stem cells have shown tremendous value in treating disease,” Schock said “We have examples right here in Illinois of how the value of the stem cells derived from cord blood can be used to improve or save someone’s life. This common-sense legislation makes it more affordable for families that want to save these cells for their children.”

Indeed, a decade ago, State Rep. Dave Leitch (R-Peoria) introduced the first-in-the-nation bill to require hospitals to ask pregnant women whether they wish to donate umbilical cord blood to cord blood banks after delivering their children – before the afterbirth is thrown away. Leitch – a former labor leader and banker and now Deputy Republican Leader in the House – not only got his 2003 bill passed. It was approved unanimously in both the House and Senate, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed it that July.

A month later, Leitch said, “We routinely discard the umbilical cord as medical waste without harvesting the precious cord blood, which is used worldwide for bone marrow transplants, curing dozens of childhood cancers and, increasingly, adult diseases.

“The research promises new marvels – regenerative therapies for dementia, stroke, heart disease, even pancreatic cells to reverse diabetes,” Leitch said then.

Surely, Schock would say that now.

And now is an interesting time, a moment when issues from joblessness and climate change to income inequality and budgets all demand the reconciliation, cooperation and decency remembered in Mandela’s life and displayed worldwide this week.

“Whoever doesn’t respond to challenges are not living,” Pope Francis said.

[PICTURED: U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, center, with the Congressional delegation to the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, courtesy Schock's office.]

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