Interview with Former Vice President Walter Mondale

Interview with Former Vice President Walter Mondale

By The Situation Room - October 4, 2010

BLITZER: Walter Mondale certainly had a front-row seat to five decades of political history. The former vice president writes about it in his brand-new book entitled "The Good Fight." Stand by for my interview with Walter Mondale, but, first, a few things you should know about him first.


BLITZER (voice-over): He made the vice presidency what it is today, taking an active role in shaping Carter administration policies. He was the first V.P. with a West Wing office and to have weekly lunches with the president.

He delivered one of the most memorable debate lines ever. During his 1984 bid for the Democratic presidential nod, Mondale took a shot at Gary Hart using a phrase from a popular Wendy's commercial.


BLITZER: He put the first woman on a major party presidential ticket. Mondale tapped Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, setting the stage for Sarah Palin two decades later.

He had expectedly tried for a Senate comeback. Mondale was asked to replace Paul Wellstone on the ballot when the Minnesota senator died in a plane crash just before the 2002 election, but Mondale lost the Senate seat he once held.

MONDALE: And in what is obviously the end of my last campaign, I want to say to Minnesotans, "You always treated me decently."


BLITZER: Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down with the former vice president. We discussed a lot of stuff, but I asked him for some specific advice for the current president of the United States.


BLITZER: Let's go through some current issues right now. You were vice president. Jimmy Carter was a one-term president. How worried are you right now, if you are worried, that Barack Obama will be a one-term president?

MONDALE: I think he's going to be a two-term president. But there's a lot of problems weighing on this administration. I think it depends on how he handles all of them, but I think that he's -- he's going to make it through the second term. It looks that way to me now.

BLITZER: What does he need to do to avoid having the same fate as Jimmy Carter, being a one-term president?

MONDALE: He's got to connect with the American people. He's got to -- the American people have to feel that the president senses and -- the suffering they're going through and wants to be a part of the solution.

He's got a lot of strength, but that connectivity, that ability to -- to transmit the fact that he feels for people, I think, is something he needs to work on. I notice he's doing more of these backyard events where he gets in close with a small group of people. I think that's part of what he should do.

BLITZER: He's not showing -- he's not feeling people's pain the way Bill Clinton was capable of feeling pain, the empathy -- empathy factor. Why is that? Why do you think he's not capable, at least so far, of really doing that?

MONDALE: Well, I've seen places when he's done it. The Milwaukee speech, I thought, was terrific. I think some of these backyard events are terrific. But I -- but I think he -- he's very bright. Matter of fact, brilliant. And I think he tends to -- and he uses these idiot boards to read speeches in television, and I think he loses the connection that he needs emotionally with American voters.

BLITZER: You're talking about the teleprompters that he always has when he's delivering a formal speech.


BLITZER: And he's reading it, basically, from a teleprompter.


BLITZER: You don't think that works. Is that what you're saying?

MONDALE: Yes. I think that, you know, if you're looking at the teleprompter, you're here, you're here, you're here. And you're -- your audience is right there. And I think he needs to do more of that.

BLITZER: A fair point. There's certainly an angry atmosphere across the country right now. The Tea Party movement clearly is gaining strength. What in your opinion is causing this anger?

MONDALE: I think people are terribly frustrated. I think they don't see big issues being resolved. A lot of people are hurting. Unemployed. In danger of losing their homes and all the rest. And the -- it shows up in part with the Tea Party, which is really a protest movement in my opinion.

BLITZER: How worried are you about this protest movement?

MONDALE: You know, I -- this idea of protesting, of having third parties, is an old American experience. It's entirely appropriate. These things flare up when the nation is having problems. What I don't like is the kind of rigid, polarized, harsh rhetoric, "my way or the highway" approach. I don't think we'll ever solve our problems by shouting at each other.

BLITZER: Here's what Ben Stein, who is well known to our viewers, a former speech writer in the Nixon administration, what he told me the other day. I want to play this clip, Mr. Vice President, for you.



BEN STEIN, AUTHOR: I think many Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, are still uneasy with an African-American president. I don't think that -- that America lives in a post-racial world entirely. A lot of it does, but I don't think a lot of it does. And I think there is some -- still some undigested feelings about that.


BLITZER: Do you agree with Ben Stein?

MONDALE: You know, I lived in this country at a time when we had segregation. I was in the middle of all the civil rights fights in the '60s and the '70s. And thank God we've gotten rid of official discrimination. In other words, governments can't do that to each other. Thank God.

But it's always a possibility that some of that feeling in people's hearts still is there. It doesn't make it laudable. But the law can't go there. So could it be true in some cases? Possibly. But I would never accuse somebody of being a racist, but I do believe there must be some lingering residue from those old days in which some people find it hard to accept having a president -- ironically, you know, he's got a white mother and a black father. Should make those people think about that.

BLITZER: I guess what Ben Stein is saying is that there are some people that just can't stomach the fact that we have an African- American president, and I wonder if you think that's a significant number or just a fringe element.

MONDALE: See, I don't know. I think -- I think it's out there. But I have no idea. And I've not seen any polls or -- or anything else that would help me answer your question.


BLITZER: The former vice president, Walter Mondale, speaking with me earlier in the day.


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