Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Walter Mondale — 1928-2021

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Walter F. Mondale, a preacher’s son from southern Minnesota who climbed to the pinnacle of U.S. politics as an influential senator, vice president and Democratic nominee for president, died on Monday. He was 93.

Known as “Fritz” to family, friends and voters alike, Mondale died in Minneapolis, according to a statement from his family.

“As proud as we were of him leading the presidential ticket for Democrats in 1984, we know that our father’s public policy legacy is so much more than that,” read the Mondale family statement.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who chose Mondale as his running mate in 1976, called his friend “the best vice president in our country’s history.”

“He was an invaluable partner and an able servant of the people of Minnesota, the United States and the world,” Carter said in a statement. “Fritz Mondale provided us all with a model for public service and private behavior.”

After serving four years under Carter, Mondale was the Democratic nominee for president in 1984. He lost to the incumbent, President Ronald Reagan, in a historic landslide.

“A night like that is hard on you,” Mondale wrote in his 2010 memoir, “The Good Fight.”

Even in defeat, Mondale made history by choosing as his running mate Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president on a major-party ticket. It followed a series of political landmarks in a public career that spanned seven decades.

A protégé of Hubert H. Humphrey, another Minnesota politician who rose to the vice presidency and lost a presidential election, Mondale served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota for a dozen years. He played a lead role in the passage of social programs, civil rights laws and environmental protections that defined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.”

As vice president from 1977 to 1981, Mondale transformed the office from what had historically been a punchline into what both he and Carter called a true governing partnership. Mondale’s role as chief adviser and troubleshooter, working from a West Wing office near the Oval Office, became a model for successors including George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden.

“The first person I called was Fritz,” Biden once said about the time President Barack Obama offered him the No. 2 position.

“Just as George Washington set the contours for the presidency, Mondale more than anyone else made the vice presidency into a robust and constructive institution,” said vice presidential scholar Joel K. Goldstein, a law professor at St. Louis University.

He never had much of a chance against Ronald Reagan in 1984, but after his long career in Minnesota, in the United States Senate, as vice president, and then ambassador to Japan, that campaign for the presidency shouldn’t be what defines his legacy. Most of all, he was a decent man who never took himself too seriously, saving that for his goals of serving his state and working for goals such as fair housing and equality. May we all have such a legacy.

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