Washington honors Fritz for transforming vice presidency
By Don Davis Forum News Service WASHINGTON -- They held a symposium about the Walter Mondale vice presidency Tuesday and a lovefest broke out. Former staff members and others close to Minnesota's senior statesman talked for six hours during the d...
By Don Davis
Forum News Service
WASHINGTON - They held a symposium about the Walter Mondale vice presidency Tuesday and a lovefest broke out.
Former staff members and others close to Minnesota’s senior statesman talked for six hours during the day about Mondale’s contributions. At night, former President Jimmy Carter flew to Washington as part of still more Mondale praise.
The emphasis was on how Mondale and Carter transformed the vice presidency from a source of jokes and mockery to a useful office. Many Carter-Mondale White House staffers told about Mondale influencing congressional votes and changing the minds of foreign officials who were hesitant to cooperate with the United States.
Stuart Eizenstat, the top Carter-Mondale domestic policy adviser, called their term in office from 1977 to 1981 the most consequential one-term administration in modern history.
Eizenstat recited Mondale’s accomplishments, ending with: “You are a legend in your own time and we all owe you a debt of gratitude.”
While preparing his remarks about Mondale, ex-staffer Landon Butler told Mondale that he recalled how “fondly everybody in the White House felt about you.”
Vice President Joe Biden said he used Mondale as an example when he became vice president.
“The first person I called was Fritz” after then-presidential candidate Barack Obama asked him to be his running mate, Biden said, using Mondale’s nickname.
In his hour on stage, Biden gave no direct clues about whether he soon will begin a run for the presidency.
University of Minnesota Professor Larry Jacobs, master of ceremonies at the Washington event, tweeted that one line may have been a swipe at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton: “I don’t think my enemy is the Republican Party.” In a recent debate, Clinton said she thinks Republicans consider her an enemy.
Several other comments could be interpreted as little digs at Clinton during the Mondale event.
There was no sign of tension between the vice presidents, who Mondale said long have been friends. Mondale supports Clinton for president.
“Joe, I love you and we are so glad you are with us today,” Mondale told the current vice president.
The vice presidents sat in a George Washington University meeting room in front of guests who long ago snapped up all the available tickets. The event was sponsored by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
The two wore nearly matching black suits, white shirts and silver ties, the ties reminders an Olympic silver medal to a president’s gold medal.
Top Minnesota Democratic politicians attended the day symposium and night dinner, including Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
Attending were people who knew Mondale in Minnesota and Washington from his days as state attorney general, U.S. senator, vice president, presidential candidate, ambassador to Japan and other public service duties.
Included on the dinner guest list was 91-year-old Carter, who Mondale, 87, said, “is going out of his way under adverse circumstances to be with us tonight.” Carter this summer announced that he has cancer.
Mondale and Biden said the keys to being a good vice president are to understand that the president is in charge, don’t disagree with the chief executive in public and make sure that is the right job for the person who accepts it.
Like Mondale, Biden did not want to be vice president. Both were plucked from the Senate to be vice presidential candidates, and both originally thought they would be more valuable to the president there than as vice president.
Biden said he talked to Mondale several times before taking office. He also talked to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, which drew the day’s only disagreement between Biden and Mondale.
“I actually like Dick Cheney, for real ... ” Biden said. “I think he is a decent man.”
Mondale immediately disagreed.
“He said early on that he was going to take things to the dark side,” Mondale said. “I believe he really did. ... I have a harsh view of the man.”
African-American leader Andrew Young joined Minnesota civil rights leader Josie Johnson and others in dissecting Mondale’s leadership in improving the lives of blacks.
Young revealed to Mondale that before Carter and Mondale teamed up, he plotted to get the two together “because I thought he would be a good vice president to you.” The remarks brought a roomful of laughs.
On a more serious note, Young said Mondale was successful working on foreign affairs.
“You would talk to everybody and anybody ... ” Young said. “We had good relationships with almost everybody.”
David Aaron, a former Mondale Senate and White House staffer, said that while Carter got the spotlight, “the vice president was deeply involved in every foreign policy breakthrough.”
Mondale got Carter to agree to order the Navy to rescue Vietnamese “boat people” who were trying to escape their war-torn country, Aaron said. Beyond that, Mondale led the American effort to make a home for the refugees.
Mondale said that he got involved in social issues because he was brought up of his minister-father.
“You have to get off your duff and help people,” he said was the message from his parents.