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Interview with Former Vice President Walter Mondale

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - October 14, 2010

JIM LEHRER: Now to a conversation with Walter Mondale. He was a U.S. senator from Minnesota and then vice president under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to '81. Judy Woodruff talked with him earlier this week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The former vice president has collected the memories of his tenure in the political arena in a new book, "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics."

Mr. Vice President, it's good to have you with us.

WALTER MONDALE, Former Vice President of the United States: Thank you, Judy, and delighted to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a lot of public figures write books right after they leave elected office.

WALTER MONDALE: Yes. Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have chosen to wait 30 years. So, I'm tempted to ask, what's the rush?

WALTER MONDALE: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, instead, I'm going to ask, what took you so long?

WALTER MONDALE: Well, I didn't want to write it for years, for three our four reasons. I didn't want to hurt people. If I were going to tell the truth, I'm going to step on some toes. I wanted to do it at a time when I felt comfortable in doing it.

Secondly, as I looked back in my history, I found this urge more and more to spell it out, because, the more you think about it, the more you realize how the past is prologue, how these things we went through maybe 25 years ago are right back with us again today. So, I think history does teach a lot here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You write -- you do write about your extraordinary journey to the pinnacle of American politics.

WALTER MONDALE: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you call your time the high tide of American liberalism.

WALTER MONDALE: Yes. Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why has the tide gone out, do you think?

WALTER MONDALE: Well, I think we had our chance. We adopted all kinds of legislation.

Politics is cyclical. People wanted to slow down a little bit and review and consolidate. That was the Reagan era. And I think they were -- they were having their high tide then. And then it started coming back under Obama.

But then I think the pressure of -- and the problems, the overwhelming nature of the challenges we have now has caused Americans to want to step back and look a little bit. But we had that time when we had 30 -- 68 senators on the Democratic side, we had a liberal court under Earl Warren, we had Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson in the White House, and we were getting things done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, today, the word liberal is practically a dirty word.

WALTER MONDALE: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What's happened?

WALTER MONDALE: You know, I don't know. I think liberal is the word that we started out with when I was a young Democrat and I was a liberal. And that's -- we were proud to call ourselves that. And then I think the idea got confused with kind of license. You know, people were liberal with other people's money. People were liberal with lifestyles.

People were -- and it became a word that had a sting to it, whereas people started calling themselves progressive. I think it's the same thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were given unprecedented responsibilities as the vice president under -- under -- under Jimmy Carter, a model that I think a lot of vice presidents, if not all of them, have followed since then, even under Republicans.

WALTER MONDALE: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dick Cheney is an example. Is that the model that you created?

WALTER MONDALE: The model we established of executivizing the vice president, putting the vice president in there with the president, working with him all day long, as I did, has been the model since then.

I would take some exception with Mr. Cheney, because, as I often say, you know, we told the truth, we obeyed the law, and we kept the peace. And I think Cheney can be rightfully criticized for using the -- kind of the privilege and the secrecy of the vice president's office to go on to the dark side, as he called it, where we had a record of disregarding the law, pressing the truth, I thought. And, so, I don't want to be identified with that chapter, if I can avoid it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you also write that President Carter made mistakes, caused you to have your most serious disagreements with him. What did he not get, not see as president?

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