It has been announced that Walter Frederick “Fritz” Mondale, former vice president to Jimmy Carter and himself a presidential candidate, has died, aged 93. A senator, a vice president, and an ambassador in later life, Mondale served his country in many ways, but he will perhaps be best remembered for two things: redefining the role of a vice president and being the man chosen to face Ronald Reagan in the 1984 election.
President Jimmy Carter said of his passing that:
“Today, I mourn the passing of my dear friend Walter Mondale, who I consider the best vice president in our country’s history. During our administration, Fritz used his political skill and personal integrity to transform the vice presidency into a dynamic, policy-driving force that had never been seen before and still exists today.”
A Unique Legacy
Mondale served his president by undertaking special envoy missions to foreign countries, participating in top-level diplomatic meetings, and being a soundboard for Carter’s ideas – and not always a receptive one. This cut and thrust in the White House is something Americans have now come to expect as normal, yet it was not often the case before the “Grits and the Fritz” ticket of 1976.
He was a man of wry humor that was all too often overlooked. When he bailed out of the 1976 presidential sweepstakes, he cited his reason as being that he did not want to spend the next two years living in Holiday Inns. When this was brought up to him after he joined the Carter ticket, he said, “I’ve checked and found that they’re all redecorated, and they’re marvelous places to stay.”
After Carter’s loss in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, Mondale took a step back … but only a small one. He positioned himself to win the next Democratic presidential nomination and launched a spirited campaign to unseat the former California governor. The 1984 election was, however, a crushing defeat for Mondale, who lost the popular vote by 18% and won only 13 Electoral College votes – the District of Columbia and his home state of Minnesota. Reagan swept his record 525 votes. Mondale said of his loss:
“While my opponent was handing out rose petals, I was handing out coal … I did not communicate hope and opportunity … I’m not trying to excuse what happened in 1984 on the basis of television technique, even though I think Reagan’s a genius and I’m not very good at it.”
Calling It A Day
Despite a lengthy career in public service, Mondale perhaps understood something that so many of the present Washington D.C. crop fail to grasp: there is always room for new blood. In 1989, Democrats urged him to stand once again for the Senate, but he refused, saying, “One of the requirements of a healthy party is that it renews itself … You can’t keep running Walter Mondale for everything.”
Read more from Mark Angelides.