Fritz Mondale and Decency

As early as 1976, Jimmy Carter’s advisor Charlie Kirbo was hired to review the decisions of the president-elect for the vice-presidency. Senators John Glenn, Walter Mondale and Joe Biden were on the shortlist. But after an interview with Mondale, Kirbo said to Carter, “Governor, I thought I could get rid of this guy, but I didn’t and I don’t think I will.” Kirbo’s political instinct in South Georgia made him a little suspicious of the Minnesotan’s highly liberal credentials. But he couldn’t resist Mondale’s simple, transparent propriety. Neither did Carter.

Carter’s partnership with Mondale was a perfect fit for populism in the north and south. Both politicians were intelligent, approachable, and unpretentious. They liked each other. One November day shortly after the 1976 election, Carter and Mondale were about to go to the White House to politely phone President Gerald Ford when Carter asked Fritz quietly, “How’s it going?”

“What are you talking about?” Asked Mondale.

“The White House,” replied Carter.

“You’ve never been to the White House? It’s a pretty nice place. I think you’ll like it.”

A few weeks later, Mondale sat down with Carter to discuss what the president-elect would expect from his number two. Mondale’s aide Richard Moe had prepared a memo with an extensive list of the Vice President’s duties. Mondale had expected Carter to negotiate point by point. Instead, Carter read the nine-page memo in silence, then tossed it on his desk. He said, “That’s fine. But I also want you to be in the White House. “

Carter considered the vice presidency to be a “wasted national good”. He was determined to change the style of the office. For the first time, he promised, this Vice President would have full access to all classified information, and Mondale would be allowed to attend any meeting he wanted, be it in the Oval Office or elsewhere.

The new arrangement worked. Mondale encouraged Carter’s liberal instincts. When Carter’s budget conscience angered the Liberals in Congress by cutting $ 5 billion in water projects for “pork kegs” to be built by the Army Corps of Engineers, Mondale tried to gently warn him that “pork” was in Congress a relative thing is: “In a democracy, someone’s garbage is someone else’s personal treasure. “He also contradicted the advice Carter had received from his Hawk National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski. He and Zbig repeatedly came across Carter’s insistence that human rights should be a major pillar of foreign policy. Mondale once complained that Brzezinski’s formulations “suggest that an important motivation for our advocacy for human rights is based on a tactical advantage over the Soviet Union”. For Mondale, human rights weren’t just a rhetorical tactical weapon against Moscow. Carter agreed.

They also had their differences. In the late spring of 1979, millions of Americans had to stand in line to refuel their cars. An energy crisis exacerbated by the Iranian revolution also led to simultaneous inflation and unemployment. The country seemed demoralized. White House pollster Patrick Caddell urged Carter to reach out to the nation about the need to recognize material boundaries. America needs to be less narcissistic. Mondale reacted angrily to Caddell’s “sophomoric” advice, angrily calling it “pile of crap” and “insane”.


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