The nation mourns the passing of an individual who over decades made major contributions to his party and his country, and who forever changed the vice presidency.
Walter F. Mondale, 1928 – 2021
Walter “Fritz” Mondale, protégé of former VP Hubert Humphrey, was a true Minnesota liberal, frank and personable, who pushed for progressive causes throughout many years of service, which included US senator and vice president. He lost the 1984 presidential election to Ronald Reagan.
In the US Senate, Mondale shepherded into law a bill to ban racial discrimination in housing, which became the Fair Housing Act. In their statement announcing his death, his family called that “one of his proudest — and hardest fought — achievements.” Mondale was also a leading driver of major environmental reforms, child abuse legislation, and an important player in the creation of Title IX, the federal law that gave women equal access to publicly funded sports programs. And he served on the Senate’s [Sen. Frank] Church Committee, one of the first major congressional crackdowns on abuses by US intelligence agencies.
Mondale served as VP to President Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981. It was, at his insistence and the encouragement of Humphrey, a true governing partnership. As chief adviser, the last to leave the Oval Office, and troubleshooter, he worked from a West Wing office near the Oval Office, becoming a model for successors including George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris.
In his 1984 campaign, he chose as his vice presidential running mate Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York–the first woman ever to run for the office on a national ticket, calling the move “long overdue.” In his speech to the Democratic National Convention he famously said, “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.” Reagan did raise taxes.
In 1993 President Clinton named Mondale ambassador to Japan, where he was quite popular and known as Omono–the Big Cheese.
In 2002, Mondale was drafted into one more campaign, for him a sad last hurrah. He agreed to run for his former Senate seat after the incumbent, Democrat Paul Wellstone, was killed in a plane crash within a couple of weeks of the election. He was narrowly defeated by St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
Former Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Finlay Lewis wrote of Mondale in a 1980 biography, “Mondale’s was the demeanor of a reasonable man who could be counted on not to offend or embarrass his allies. He possessed two of the most valued of all political gifts — caution and good judgment.” Traits sorely missing today.