March 20, 2006
58, Number 23
March 20 , 2006
Mondale talks politics
at Carter Library
BY alfred charles
Former Vice President Walter Mondale criticized the Bush Administration during a speech at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, assailing the White House over the Iraq war, the use of wiretaps for domestic spying and Dick Cheney’s behavior.
Speaking to about 200
people who gathered for the March 14 nighttime speech, Mondale, a Democrat, took aim at the Republican White House for its conduct on a host of issues, suggesting that Bush-Cheney’s performance has been less than stellar.
“When I’m asked about my White House years, I say we told the truth, obeyed the law and kept the peace,” he said to applause. “And, I might add, we paid our bills.”
Mondale said he has been spending time in Atlanta recently to prepare for an upcoming college course he will teach in the fall at the University of Minnesota. He said the course would draw on documents created during his time in the White House, so he has been sifting through the archives at the Carter Library.
He began with prepared remarks that segued into a Q&A with audience members. Mondale seemed relaxed and spiced his conversation with humor. For example, he told the audience one of the things he found while rummaging through the old White House papers was a hunting license he obtained for an excursion that
occurred 25 years ago. “I remember that trip,” he said. “I shot two geese, and that was all!”
The remark, greeted by laughter, was an obvious swipe at Cheney, who endured intense criticism in the news media after he accidentally shot a friend in February during a weekend hunting trip in South Texas.
During his talk, Mondale, 78, referenced his extensive background in public service—a series of political births and rebirths that stretch beyond four decades.
The Minnesota native served as state attorney general before he was appointed to serve in the U.S. Senate to replace Hubert Humphrey, who became vice president in 1964.
Former President Jimmy Carter tapped Mondale to serve as his vice president when Carter won the White House in 1976. The pair ran for reelection in 1980, but lost to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In 1984, Mondale, running for president, made history when he chose a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, to run on the Democratic ticket as vice president. The two lost to Reagan and Bush. Mondale served as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996 before launching a failed bid in 2002 to return to the Senate to fill the seat of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash just 11 days before the Nov. 5 election.
Mondale mostly reminisced about his years in office with Carter, the former Georgia governor from Plains, Ga., who ascended to the highest political office in the country. Mondale said the two were both raised in small towns, sharing upbringings steeped in religion.
“I was the first vice president who was brought in and made a part of the administration,” Mondale said. “It was a dramatic and profound change in the presidency.”
The former vice president said he was at the table when decisions were made and he was a part of the process, a groundbreaking moment he recalls as precedent-setting and one of the hallmarks of the Carter years.
“We met three or four times a day and had private, candid talks about politics,” Mondale said. “I operated at his instruction, and we really connected.”
Mondale said Cheney, who has been acknowledged as having an enormous amount of influence in the Bush White House, seems to be operating with unlimited license. “I think Cheney has stepped over the line,” he said, adding that Carter would never have tolerated similar behavior from him.
Mondale also lambasted the Bush decision to invade Iraq, comparing the Middle East conflict to America’s involvement in Vietnam.
“I don’t think we can win the war, but we’re there now, and what do we do about it?” he said. “I don’t have a good answer for that.”
Even so, Mondale said America must use its diplomacy and military might to get Iraqis involved in the governing and rebuilding of their country. “We must tell the Iraqi people, ‘It’s your time to act.’”
Mondale also chided the Bush White House over the order that allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct selected wiretaps without warrants. When news of the surveillance came to light a few months ago, it
sparked a firestorm of criticism from those who said the executive branch was exceeding its authority.
The White House has argued that the wiretaps are necessary in the nation’s ongoing fight against terrorism.
Mondale said the Bush Administration has failed the test on public trust and that the White House should work with Congress to create a law that fits modern times if one is needed.
“We need to protect liberties,” Mondale said. “The Founding Fathers wanted to make certain that the human capacity for stepping across the line would be held accountable.”