Biden calls former VP Mondale ‘a giant’ of political history
President Biden saluted his “friend of five decades” Walter Mondale on Sunday, traveling to the University of Minnesota to remember the former vice president and Democratic Party elder whose memorial service was delayed for a year due to the pandemic. Mondale died in April 2021 at age 93.
Mondale is credited with transforming the office of the vice presidency — which Biden held for eight years under President Obama — expanding its responsibilities and making himself a key advisor to President Carter.
Mondale “was a giant in American political history,” Biden said. He added that Mondale, known to friends as “Fritz,” was one of the “toughest, smartest men I’ve ever worked with” as colleagues in the Senate and as a mentor.
Biden emphasized Mondale’s empathy, recalling his own promise during the 2020 presidential campaign to unite the country. That’s something the president has strayed from in recent weeks, as he seeks to draw a starker contrast between his administration and congressional Republicans who have opposed it on nearly every major issue.
“It was Fritz who lit the way,” Biden said. “Everybody is to be treated with dignity. Everybody.”
Biden added, “He united people sharing the light, the same hopes — even when we disagreed, he thought that was important.
“It’s up to each of us to reflect that light that Fritz was all about,” he added.
Biden, who received a standing ovation, said he spoke with Mondale’s family before the invitation-only, 90-minute service and “got emotional” himself.
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) called Mondale a “bona fide political celebrity” who dedicated time to races large and small back in their home state. Minnesota civil rights icon Josie Johnson spoke of what a good listener Mondale was and how he championed inclusiveness.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) described being an intern who climbed under chairs and a table to carry out a furniture inventory when Mondale was vice president.
“That was my first job in Washington. And, thanks to Walter Mondale, this was my second,” Klobuchar said of being a senator, noting that Mondale encouraged her to run and taught “the pundits in Washington how to say my name.”
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said Minnesota may be better known as Mondale’s home state than its moniker “the Land of 10,000 Lakes” and praised Mondale’s intellect, humility, humor and optimism.
“He embodied a sense of joy. He lived his life every single day,” Walz said. “At 91, he was still fishing for walleye. Unlike me, he was catching some.”
A booklet given to attendees for the “afternoon of remembrance and reflection” quoted from Mondale’s 2010 book “The Good Fight”: “I believe that the values of the American people — our fundamental decency, our sense of justice and fairness, our love of freedom — are the country’s greatest assets, and that steering by their lodestar is the only true course forward.”
Mondale was a graduate of the University of Minnesota and its law school, which has a building named after him. During Sunday’s remembrance, Biden wiped his eyes as a performance of “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie” played, and the service closed with the university’s marching band, which sent people away with the “Minnesota Rouser” fight song.
Mondale followed a trail blazed by his political mentor, Hubert H. Humphrey, serving as Minnesota attorney general before replacing Humphrey in the Senate and serving as Carter’s vice president from 1977 to 1981.
Mondale also lost one of the most lopsided presidential elections ever, to Ronald Reagan in 1984. He carried only Minnesota and the District of Columbia after bluntly telling voters to expect a tax increase if he won. But he made history in that race by picking Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate, becoming the first major-party nominee to put a woman on the ticket.
Mondale remained an important Democratic voice for decades afterward and went on to serve as ambassador to Japan under President Clinton. In 2002, at 74, he was drafted to run for the Senate again after Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash shortly before the election. Mondale lost the abbreviated race to Republican Norm Coleman.
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