I was lucky enough to meet Walter Mondale in between national elections sometime in the early 1980’s. It was at some sort of Congressional function. I can’t remember if it was on or off the Hill, but I made a beeline for him and introduced myself.
Me: Nice to meet you, Mr. Vice President.
WM: Former Vice President.
Me: Mr. Mondale then…
WM: … just call me Fritz.
I did and I still do,
I knew that he loved the Minnesota Twins, so I mentioned meeting Jim (Mudcat) Grant who was one of the stars of the 1965 team that lost to Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers in the World Series.
WM: Great nickname. Great guy. Did you know that he was a heckuva singer and had a nightclub act called Mudcat and the Kittens?
Me: I did not know that.
I lied to one of the most honest men in American public life because I didn’t want to slow his roll. I also skipped my stock line about the 1980 election: “I voted for Mondale for Vice President.”
Much to my surprise, we chatted for about ten minutes. He liked talking to young people. Believe or not I used to be young.
Fritz Mondale died yesterday at the age of 93. He was a modest man from a humble background who never forgot his roots or his commitment to the poor, minorities, and the elderly.
Mondale should be remembered for revolutionizing the Vice Presidency, not for his blow-out loss to Ronald Reagan. But that led to one of my favorite Fritz Mondale stories:
Some time after Mondale lost overwhelmingly to Reagan in 1984, Mondale called his old friend George McGovern who had also lost 49 states to Nixon in 1972. "George, this is tough. How long does it take to recover from a big defeat?" "Fritz, when it happens, I'll let you know."
— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) April 20, 2021
He liked telling that story. He said it kept him humble.
He conducted his 1984 presidential campaign with dignity and honor. He lost but he was true to himself and his beliefs. He also made history by picking Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. It took 36 years for a woman to be elected Veep. The current Vice President Kamala Harris was among the last to speak with her predecessor. Fortuna’s Wheel keeps spinning.
I chuckled when I read that Mondale was selected by Carter because of his Washington experience. That’s only partially accurate: Carter was mistrusted by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and organized labor. Fritz Mondale was their guy.
Fritz Mondale and his mentor and fellow Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey had many things in common. Mondale was appointed to fill HHH’s senate seat when the latter became Veep. Humphrey urged him to accept the Vice Presidency despite Hubert’s appalling treatment by Lyndon Johnson. They were both Democratic nominees for president and both lost. More importantly, they were good and decent people who helped steer the Democratic party “out of the shadow of states’ rights and …. into the bright sunshine of human rights” in Humphrey’s memorable phrase.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar won Twitter last night after her mentor’s passing:
Walter Mondale was my mentor from the first time I worked for him in college. My job then? Doing the furniture inventory.
He encouraged me to run for office and was always there for me. But I wasn’t the only one. He saw his mission as preparing a new generation of leaders. pic.twitter.com/LEa87Lt4vs
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) April 20, 2021
On the wall of the Carter Library is a quote of Walter Mondale’s at the end of their time in office: “We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace.” That pretty much sums up Walter Mondale’s life and service.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) April 20, 2021
Fritz Mondale lived a long and glorious life. Instead of mourning his death, we should celebrate his life and legacy as a heckuva nice guy and the greatest Vice President in American history. Along with Hubert Humphrey, he was the best president we never had.
The last word goes to Mudcat Grant at a memorial service for his teammate, Harmon Killebrew:
3 thoughts on “Fritz Mondale, R.I.P.”
When he announced that he was going to raise taxes to reduce the deficit, I thought, “There goes the election.” And I voted for him anyway. I’m struggling to think of any pol today, with the possible exceptions of Biden and Warren, who would have that level of honesty and that much respect for the American people that he would tell them the truth without flinching.
I have never regretted voting for Mondale and Dukakis.
Not too long after the election in 1984 my then girlfriend, now wife and I pulled up in front her Dad’s house in Bethlehem, WV. When we got out of the car we could hear the sounds of an argument at top volume between two very loud partisans – my future father-in-law and my future sister-in-law, his middle child.
The gist of it was that my father-in-law – a union local President – had told his daughter that Mondale was going to win, no problem before the election.
At the post-election gathering he casually mentioned that everyone knew Mondale was going to lose. His daughter was incensed, noting that – based on his assurance – she had gone around her workplace bragging about Mondale’s imminent victory. He had forgotten this contradiction in the interim and his efforts to justify it were roundly and loudly rejected.
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