Walter Mondale — RIP

Someone with a knowledge of Minnesota politics can disabuse me of pieties, I trust. I…really have nothing bad to say about Walter Mondale. He was often right when fighting Jimmy Carter, who selected him as a running mate, empowered him like no other vice president in our history (and set the standard for every successor save Dan Quayle), and listened to him except when it upset his ego. He didn’t lie to his constituents about the good of liberalism. He didn’t pander to Democrats in 1984 — he told them he would raise taxes! A decision whose obstinacy showed his debt to Carter after all. He had no chance against Ronald Reagan anyway yet defeat didn’t embitter him.

The first presidential campaign I remember, 1984 demonstrated the indomitability of Reagan’s support because the economy happened to take off at the moment he was at his dulcet-voiced best lying about the deficit, the Soviet threat, the Contras. Incumbents have moments when even public revulsion sour their essential affection: FDR in 1936; Ike in 1956; Clinton in 1996. Choosing a woman as a running mate drained Jesse Jackson’s liberal support; alas, Geraldine Ferraro, apart from her husband’s financial peccadilloes, represented New York white resentment all too well even at the time. Avuncular, self-deprecating in ways his TV appearances couldn’t capture, terrific on policy detail, Mondale was the last national product of the New Deal coalition that held sway from 1932-1980, thus primed for national defeat but not humiliation.

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