News/Op-Ed: Former Vice President Walter Mondale Passes Away at 93
by Joshua Hernandez, Editor-in-Chief
On April 19, 2021, the 42nd Vice President of the United States, Walter “Fritz” Mondale, passed away peacefully at his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota from natural causes. Serving under Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, Mondale transformed the office of the Vice Presidency, which was previously seen as an undesirable position in Government.
According to numerous reports, former Vice President Mondale was aware of his declining health and inevitable death; sending memos to staff members as a form of goodbye while also informing them that he was at peace. Additionally, only one day before he passed away in his sleep, Mondale talked to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and 42nd President Bill Clinton on the phone, saying goodbye as he and his family were expecting the inevitable.
Prior to his death, Mondale held the unique distinction of being the oldest living former Vice President. Upon his death, such a title became held by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who is 80 years old. Ironically, former President Jimmy Carter, whom Mondale served as Vice President, is the oldest living former president at 96 years old. Upon hearing of his former Vice President’s death, Carter released a statement expressing grief, love and respect for Mondale.
In a political state of affairs that can best be described as polarized, Walter Mondale serves as an example of an elder statesman who was a respected member of the political establishment in the United States. Not only was Mondale nationally respected by Democrats for his trailblazing career, he garnered the respect of traditional conservatives, who were drawn to his outreach, his willingness to reach across the aisle and negotiate when it came to legislation, as well as his overall transformation of the role of the Vice Presidency.
The life of Walter Mondale is one that can best be described as illustrious. A devoted public servant, Mondale served the United States in many different capacities. From May 4, 1960 to December 30, 1964, Mondale was the 23rd Attorney General of Minnesota. From December 30, 1964 to December 30, 1976, Mondale served as a United States Senator from Minnesota. From January 20, 1977 to January 20, 1981, he served as the 42nd Vice President of the United States.
In 1984, Mondale ran a bold campaign against Incumbent President Ronald Reagan, tapping Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate, making her the first woman to appear on a federal presidential election ticket in American history. Despite Mondale being well respected across all sides of the political spectrum and making a running mate selection that was well ahead of his time, the potential of a Mondale-Ferraro Administration failed to gain significant traction, as Mondale was defeated by popular Incumbent Ronald Reagan in a landslide, winning only one state, his home state of Minnesota, and the District of Columbia.
Despite the landslide election loss that put a stain on Mondale’s illustrious career in public service, his impact as Vice President of the United States is one in which has redefined the office of Vice President and has allowed modern-day President’s to put significantly more value on the office of the Vice Presidency. Rather than the Vice Presidency being a crapshoot in which one acted merely as a symbolic figurehead, Mondale changed the Vice Presidency into an office that allowed future Vice Presidents to assume a wide range of responsibilities and duties, which aided future Vice Presidents such as Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden in having lasting impacts on their respective administrations despite not being the primary shot callers.
After his election loss in 1984, Mondale continued to be on the radar in the legal and political scene. Once he was back in Minnesota, Mondale joined the Dorsey and Whitney law firm, as well as the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. In 1993, after having not held public office since 1981, Mondale was called to serve his country once again by 42nd President Bill Clinton, whom he served as the 24th United States Ambassador to Japan from September 21, 1993 to December 15, 1996.
After that, Mondale still wasn’t finished, returning back home to Minnesota to serve as a part-time teacher at the University of Minnesota, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Right up to his death, Mondale remained active behind the scenes in the Democratic Party, offering a ringing endorsement of current President Joe Biden and shedding some optimism in a time that seems increasingly grim.
In Minnesota, Mondale was particularly influential to current Senator Amy Klobuchar, who also ran for the Democratic Nomination, leading a gritty campaign as she vied for the presidency, though she ultimately came up short despite proving many naysayers wrong. Klobuchar, who was a college intern for Mondale in 1980 during his final year as Vice President, learned that Mondale was a truly great man, who was overwhelmingly honest. Klobuchar also learned from Mondale the ability to apply oneself to a job, even if it wasn’t the job that was envisioned – as was for Klobuchar, who was taking down serial numbers of furniture instead of working on briefings like she wanted. Klobuchar credits the lessons she learned from Mondale as a reason why she is currently a Senator for Minnesota.
Whether many realize it or not, Walter “Fritz” Mondale, the 42nd Vice President of the United States who served only one term in office, is one of the most consequential figures in American history. While he may best be remembered as the man who got trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1984 Presidential Elections, what he is really known for in Washington, D.C, Minnesota and beyond was for being a man who was perhaps much too ahead of his time. From crafting housing legislation to having unprecedented influence and transforming the office of the Vice Presidency all the way to tapping a little-known female United States Representative to be his running mate in a consequential election, “Fritz” was as good as they come.
In times that are so polarized, Walter Mondale serves as a throwback example to the prototype establishment politician who was decent, honest, hardworking and respected all across the political spectrum. When time seemed to move quick in Washington, D.C., “Fritz” moved at his own pace, always one with the present, tackling issues as they may have come. Mondale may have been a trailblazer who was ahead of his time politically, but he was always in harmony with the present, never too sure to count his chickens before they hatched. Right up until he felt the inevitability of death, he was at peace, enjoying the moment and the present just as he did throughout his illustrious life of public service. The tao – the ideology of being one with the present – is Walter Mondale, and his life of public service and the legacy he left behind shall serve as a vessel for an America divided.