|President Jimmy Carter with Walter Mondale before departing for Guadalupe
on Jan. 4, 1979. Photo from the National Archives and Records Administration.
The University of Minnesota Press has released in a new paperback edition The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics, by former U.S. senator from Minnesota and former vice president of the United States, Walter F. Mondale (with David Hage). Mondale spent more than five decades in public life, and has played a leading role in America’s movement for social change. Here is an excerpt from the book’s introduction, Taking Care.
BY WALTER F. MONDALE
Some years ago I was asked to give a lecture on political leadership at Rutgers University, and I found myself composing my remarks in the form of a letter to the next president. The year was 1987. Ronald Reagan, a popular president during his first term, had wandered into the swamp of Iran–Contra and was struggling to get back on solid ground with the American people. I had spent four years in the White House with Jimmy Carter, watching and working with the president at closer range than any other vice president in history, and I thought I knew something about leadership and integrity.
The advice I put in that letter was simple: Obey the law. Do your homework. Trust the American people. “The most cherished, mysterious, indefinable, but indispensable asset of the presidency is public trust,” I wrote. “You don’t get a bank deposit, but it acts like a bank deposit. You have only so much. You’ve got to cherish, to protect, and to nurture it, because once it’s gone, you’re done.”
I pulled that letter out not long ago, after the election of Barack Obama. Not because I worried for Obama’s leadership, but because I have watched the ebb and flow of public trust for fifty years, and I know that, at turning points in our nation’s history, it can spell the difference between a society that slips backward into bitterness and frustration and a country that fulfills its greatest promise and highest ideals.
I came of age in a period when our country brimmed with hope and generosity. . . . But I also lived through a period of crippling cynicism and division. I watched one remarkable president, Lyndon Johnson, self-destruct because he could not level with the American people about a war he was waging in their name. I saw a brilliant politician, Richard Nixon, leave the White House in disgrace because he succumbed to the temptations of deceit and the conviction that he was above the law. I spent a year of my Senate career investigating conspiracies by the CIA and FBI to spy on American citizens and subvert the law—then watched another administration three decades later systematically violate the law we wrote and the Constitution they had sworn to uphold. More times than I hoped, I watched the cynicism and dismay that set in when Americans lose trust in their own government.
This is not, perhaps, the homily that most Americans will expect from me. They will remember me as the Democrat who carried the banner of liberalism against tough odds in 1984 and lost to Ronald Reagan. They will remember me, if they have long memories, as the heir to a progressive political tradition that put civil rights and economic justice on center stage in American politics. I spent a career fighting for those ideals and I believe in them today as passionately as ever.
Walter F. Mondale (The Good Fight) has figured prominently in American politics for five decades, as a state attorney general, U.S. senator from Minnesota, vice president of the United States, Democratic candidate for president in 1984, and U.S. ambassador to Japan. He lives in Minneapolis.
David Hage is an editor at the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and St. Paul. His books include Reforming Welfare by Rewarding Work (Minnesota, 2004).
“Fritz Mondale and I worked side by side in the White House through four intense years of challenges and left office with a friendship that would last a lifetime. We were also able to tell the American people: ‘We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace.’ This memoir is a compelling history of those years and of the life of the remarkable man I know Fritz to be.”
—President Jimmy Carter
“The Good Fight is Walter Mondale’s personal story and the story of more than half a century of progressive politics, of its victories and defeats in the search for civil rights, social justice, and economic opportunity for all Americans. Walter Mondale is the best kind of public man—intelligent, honest, hardworking, effective. It’s rare to find a man so good and wise who’s also funny as can be. Whatever your own politics, if you love your country, you should read this book.”
—President Bill Clinton