Walter Mondale, a liberal Democrat who served as US vice-president under Jimmy Carter before losing his own bid for the White House to Ronald Reagan in 1984, has died at the age of 93.
Mondale, a native of southern Minnesota, launched his political career in 1960 as attorney-general of his home state and then four years later as a US senator, before becoming one of the Democratic party’s leading figures of the mid-to-late 20th century.
Over the course of his career, Mondale was credited with invigorating and adding prominence to the role of the vice-president in US politics, and for tapping Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1984: the first time a woman had ever been nominated for the role from a major party. Mondale, who was known as “Fritz”, also had a stint in US diplomacy, as ambassador to Japan during Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990s.
“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,” Carter said in a statement on Monday night. “He was an invaluable partner and an able servant of the people of Minnesota, the United States and the world,” the former president added.
From the outset of his political career, Mondale was a champion of causes including the need for a stronger social safety net, fair housing laws and civil rights.
“There’s a lot of bad consequences that flow from segregation. The kids don’t do as well. We live separately. We don’t learn about each other. We’re all Americans. And yet, we separate based on, basically, race. And I believe it’s got to stop,” he told National Public Radio in 2018.
But Mondale was also known for the candour with which he was prepared to discuss the challenges facing the US. Most memorably, during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1984, he warned that he was prepared to raise taxes to improve the country’s fiscal position.
“Let’s tell the truth,” he said. “Mr Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.” Mondale lost the 1984 election in a landslide, winning only Minnesota and the District of Columbia. He later remarked that during that race Reagan, “was selling ‘Morning in America’ and I was selling a root canal”.
Mondale played a crucial role in some of the Carter administration’s most important accomplishments, including the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt. But the energy crisis afflicting the US economy and the Iran hostage stand-off undermined the administration’s foreign policy credentials, and Mondale and Carter were unable to secure a second term in the face of rising conservative sentiment and Reagan’s strong challenge.
Later in life, Mondale made another run for office in 2002, when he sought a Senate seat in the wake of a plane crash that killed Paul Wellstone, the Democratic senator from Minnesota. But the former vice-president was narrowly defeated by Republican Norm Coleman, ending his dreams of a political comeback.
In recent days, Mondale wrote a brief farewell message to his staff, pointing to his looming reunion with his late wife and daughter, who had passed away before him.
“Well, my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor,” Mondale wrote. “Together we have accomplished so much and I know you will keep up the good fight. Joe [Biden] in the White House certainly helps.”
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