Former Vice President Walter Mondale is a storied figure in the history of Minnesota politics. He is well known for his liberalism, but he should be better known as a man of remarkably flexible principles. Back in the day as a United States Senator from Minnesota and a protégé of Hubert Humphrey, he was a faithful supporter of the Vietnam war. He supported the war roughly until January 1969, when Richard Nixon succeeded Lyndon Johnson. Then he became a prominent and vocal opponent of the war.
Mondale has opposed the Senate filibuster rule along the same principled lines. As a Minnesota Senator in 1975, he led the successful fight to reform the filibuster by reducing the number of votes necessary for cloture from 67 to 60. Mondale was, in fact, the leading Democratic opponent of the filibuster.
In 2005, however, in the midst of the Democratic obstruction of President Bush’s judicial appointees through the use of the filibuster, Mondale took to the pages of the Minneapolis Star Tribune to support the filibuster. The Star Tribune published a purported bipartisan column under the joint byline of Republican former Senator David Durenberger and Mondale with the heading “Preserve Senate rules, filibuster and all.” (When last seen in the Star Tribune before this 2005 column, Durenberger was endorsing John Kerry for president; that’s bipartisanship a la the Star Tribune.)
Mondale’s 2005 column with Durenberger traced the venerable filibuster to “the days when Thomas Jefferson first wrote the Senate’s rules,” and argued: “Today, as it has been for 200 years, an individual senator may talk without limit on an issue; and others may join in, and they may continue to press those issues until or unless the Senate by 60 votes ends that debate and a vote occurs. No other legislative body has such a rule.” Mondale celebrated it and had no concern that 60 might be the wrong number.
In his 2005 Star Tribune column, Mondale acknowledged neither his past positions, nor his own historic role in reforming the filibuster in 1975. Like a good postmodern Democrat, Mondale simply put his past under erasure.
Well, that was then. Today Democrats rule the roost in the executive and legislative branches, and the filibuster is again a nuisance. Today the Star Tribune covers Mondale’s renewed opposition to the filibuster in “Mondale: Ease the filibuster paralysis.”
The Star Tribune of course omits any mention of Mondale’s support for “the filibuster paralysis” in its own pages back in 2005. To Star Tribune reporters Kevin Diaz and Eric Roper, I offer a hearty congratulations. It takes two reporters to cover up relevant information from the Star Tribune’s own archives that belies today’s party line.
Testifying before the Senate Rules Committee this week, Mondale said that the time has come again to lower the number of senators needed for cloture. The time came again in January 2009.
“There is no magic number,” Mondale said, but Mondale supported reducing the number to somewhere “between 58 and 55 members.” Why not 59? Either It would have been a little too obvious, or it would have provided insufficient room to allow cover for Democrats from conservative states. Or perhaps Mondale is planning ahead, to January 2011.
Mondale is not known for his sense of humor, but he is in reality quite a clown.
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