Former Vice President Walter Mondale discussed his long career and criticized the sharp partisanship of today politics at a sold-out Jack Morton auditorium Wednesday night.
In a discussion held with School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno as part of his 2009-10 Public Affairs Project Conversation Series, Mondale talked about the changes Washington has witnessed in the years since he served as Jimmy Carter’s vice president, his career as a public servant, and his thoughts on the direction of America.
Mondale criticized polarity and partisanship in today’s political arena, a contrast to his days in the Senate in the 1970s.
“Back then, debates were always heated. But I don’t think they had the kind of nastiness they do today,” he said.
Mondale stressed the need for Democrats and Republicans to work together, particularly toward health care reform.
“We need to lighten it up. We need to find a way of talking with each other,” he said. “We need to find a solution.”
When asked about President Barack Obama’s progress in the White House, Mondale focused on the complexity of the issues faced by the current administration.
“I think he’s doing very well. But, he’s confronted with a range of miserable issues. I think the American people, though they are challenged by these times, basically trust him,” Mondale said. “And that’s what a president needs.”
Mondale said Obama “has to push a little harder” on big issues and reforms to see progress.
“It’s nice to talk but when there are big issues, the president has to get personally and intently involved,” Mondale said.
After sharing his thoughts on the Obama administration, Mondale turned to the Bush presidency and the past eight years, which he referred to as “tragic.”
“I don’t know anybody after these past six or eight years who would say America is stronger now,” he said.
Mondale said he believed the expansion of the vice presidency that occurred while he held that office was “long overdue.” However, he believes former Vice President Dick Cheney asserted too much authority, going “off the rails.”
After serving as vice president for four years under Carter, Mondale launched his own campaign for the presidency in 1984, one that was ultimately unsuccessful.
“I’ve won and I’ve lost. And I like winning better. When you run for office in a democracy in America, one person wins and one person loses,” he said. “I think it’s important that we do it with civility, with respect.”
Also included in the event was the Washington premiere of “Fritz: The Walter Mondale Story,” a new documentary directed by Melody Gilbert and narrated by Mondale’s daughter, Eleanor Mondale.
The film chronicled Mondale’s rise from his humble beginnings in Minnesota where he thought his career in politics would peak with an election to the city council, to his election to the vice presidency. During his career in politics, Mondale proved himself to be a champion of civil rights, helping to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and fair housing laws. He broke barriers throughout his career, highlighted by his selection of New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential candidate, the first woman to appear on a national ticket.
The overarching theme of the film was Mondale’s commitment to public service, his community involvement and his desire to help those less fortunate.
Near the end of his discussion with Sesno, Mondale encouraged students to find something they’re passionate about and use it to benefit the good of the community.
“If you’re inspired by the idea of service, if you want to be involved in improving our nation’s chances, there’s a lot of ways to do that,” he told the audience. “Politics is just one of them.”