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Remembering Walter Mondale: Ambassador of Liberalism From Another Era

Remembering Walter Mondale: Ambassador of Liberalism From Another Era
In this Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, file photo, former Vice President Walter Mondale smiles as he gets on an elevator on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP)

By Tuesday, 20 April 2021 06:23 AM Current | Bio | Archive

One of the first things conservatives — political junkies — were saying about Walter Mondale after learning of his death Monday at age 93 was that the former vice president and U.S. Senator from Minnesota was the only politician in history rejected by all 50 states.

As the Democrat nominee against Ronald Reagan in 1984 at the height of the 40th president’s popularity, Mondale carried only his native Gopher State and the District of Columbia.

In 2002, following the tragic death of Democrat Sen. Paul Wellstone in a plane crash, Democrat powers in Minnesota believed that Mondale at age 71 would have no problem winning the seat he had held from 1965-77. This would be his "last hurrah," much like Edwin O’Connor’s acclaimed novel of the same name about the final campaign of the septuagenarian big-city Mayor Frank Skeffington (portrayed on screen by Spencer Tracy).

But the analogy to the fictional Skeffington was all too accurate. Mondale, like Skeffington, met defeat at the hands of a much younger opponent who had adapted to the changing nature of campaigns. In narrowly losing the Senate race to St. Paul’s Republican Mayor Norm Coleman, Mondale lost a race for the first time in his beloved home state.

But two decades after he last sought office and 44 years after he last won office as Jimmy Carter’s vice president, the Minnesota lawyer everyone called "Fritz" Mondale is remembered and mourned as one of the towering figures in the Democratic Party’s liberal wing.

Along with his mentor and hero Hubert Humphrey, Sen. Mondale was one of the most vocal advocates of civil rights in the 1960’s and ‘70’s.  He worked closely with Senate colleague Robert Kennedy, D-N.Y., on the issue of hunger in America and was one of the first Senate Democrats to champion the cause of the environment.

Mondale never backed away from his advocacy of government involvement in solving the nation’s problems and, in accepting his party’s nomination for president in 1984, he famously told the convention in San Francisco: "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did." 

If the Mondale agenda sounds familiar, it is because so much of it — civil rights, environmental protection, and, yes, raising taxes — is embodied in that of his old Senate colleague and friend Joe Biden.

"Through his work as a Senator, he showed me what was possible," read the president’s statement shortly after the news of Mondale’s death, "He may have been modest and unassuming in manner, but he was unwavering in his pursuit of progress; instrumental in passing laws like the Fair Housing Act to prevent racial discrimination in housing, Title IX to provide more opportunities for women, and laws to protect our environment. There have been few senators, before or since, who commanded such universal respect."

Biden also hailed Mondale as the first presidential nominee of either party to select a woman as his running mate [the late New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro] "and I know how pleased he was to be able to see Kamala Harris become Vice President."

What Biden called Mondale’s "unassuming" and "modest" manner made him a somewhat less-than-dynamic campaigner. But the Minnesotan’s specialty was the "insider campaign" — the careful cultivation of small groups or just one powerful individual who could advance his career.

When Minnesota Attorney General Miles Lord resigned his position in 1960, then-Gov. Orville Freeman appointed the little-known University of Minnesota Law School graduate and U.S. Army veteran Mondale (then 32) to succeed him. Mondale had worked on all of the campaigns of fellow Democrat Freeman, including his first (and unsuccessful) race for the office in 1952.

Five years later, when Hubert Humphrey became vice president, the smart money in Minnesota was that Gov. Karl Rolvaag would appoint veteran Rep. John Blatnick to his Senate seat. But the smart money had not reckoned with Fritz Mondale. When Rolvaag got very drunk and wrecked a motor boat, Attorney General Mondale saw that there were no reports of the embarrassing accident.  At age 37, Mondale succeeded Humphrey in the Senate.

Having forsaken a run for president of his own in 1976 because "I don’t want to spend a year in Holiday Inns," Mondale actively sought to be the running mate of nominee Jimmy Carter.

"And Gov. Carter was a lot more conservative than many Democrats and he picked Fritz because he had impeccable liberal credentials," Bob Juliano, legendary restaurant workers lobbyist and friend of Mondale’s, told Newsmax. "Because of that, I never doubted he would go to Fritz."

Much as John Kennedy named former Democrat nominee and liberal icon Adlai Stevenson UN ambassador to please the Democratic left, centrist Bill Clinton tapped Mondale — with whom he had little in common — as ambassador to Japan in 1993. In a political system in which age is revered and many members of parliament have lost attempts to become prime minister, Mondale proved a popular and successful envoy.

Politics aside, Fritz Mondale had his share of sadness and disappointment. Actress-daughter Eleanor died of cancer in 2011 at age 51. Three years later, Fritz’s beloved Joan died after nearly 60 years of marriage in which the two were considered an inseparable team. Son Ted made it to the state senate but fared badly in the Democrat primary for governor in 1998. Ironically, he was considered the moderate in the race with the least ties to labor.

"I hope people remember that Fritz’s good nature and refusal to personalize politics helped him make a lot of friends across the aisle — like [Republican Sens.] Paul Laxalt [Nev.] and Bob Dole [KA], who probably disagreed with him on everything," Bob Juliano told Newsmax. "I’ll sure miss him.  A lot of folks will."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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One of the first things conservatives - political junkies - were saying about Walter Mondale after learning of his death Monday at age 93 was that the former vice president and U.S. Senator from Minnesota was the only...
walter mondale, obit
Tuesday, 20 April 2021 06:23 AM
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