More on Walter Mondale and the Wellstone Succession: Rocket Man, as always, your memory is perfect, and the story does not get much less painful through the lapse of time. As to the need for a Democratic president for Lillehaug to become a judge…I invite Deacon to weigh in.
Now that the Mondale succession to Senator Wellstone’s candidacy is a done deal, I want to weigh in briefly on Mondale’s return to public life. Like many Minnesotans, I have a relationship with him that extends back quite a ways. When I graduated from high school in June 1969, I went to work as an intern for the summer in his Washington office. Like all such senate offices back then, his was relatively small and informal. I worked directly for his chief of staff, Mike Berman. Mike is now a Democratic consultant who is frequently quoted in background stories on Mondale.
Given his personal rectitude, his longevity as an officeholder, and the offices he has held, Mondale has become the elder statesman of the Democratic party in Minnesota and perhaps nationally. As the vice president and a vital member of what was to that time the worst administration in American history, Mondale is an ideal barometer of the liberalism of our era. When he talks about the comprehensive domestic and foreign policy catastrophes that brought down the Carter administration–unprecedented inflation/recession, the Iranian hostage taking, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan–he talks about them sincerely as if they were a plague of locusts that descended from the sky, unrelated to the policies of his own administration. He is a perfect fool.
Fast forward to 1996. As Bill Clinton found himself immersed in the campaign finance scandals that revealed his adminstration to be the most corrupt in American history, he called on Walter Mondale to head a commission that would provide him the political cover he felt he needed to ride out the scandals. As such, Mondale became the butt boy (or ass clown) of the Clinton administration.
Mondale was of course the right guy for the job of heading the commission. As a member of the senate in 1974, Mondale had been a leading advocate of the campaign finance reform law that governed in 1996. In accepting the job, Mondale characterized the regime of campaign finance law that he was partially responsible for as a “nightmare” without himself or anyone else noting its direct relationship to the “reform” he had sponsored as a senator.
Even greater irony is suggested by the fact that as a University of Minnesota Law School student in 1956, Mondale had published an incredibly astute law review note criticizing Minnesota’s campaign finance law on grounds that applied generally to laws like the 1974 law (and to the reform law adopted this year). Mondale himself was aware of the irony; in 1979 he had contributed an autographed copy of the law review note to a University of Minnesota Law School fundraiser (I bought it–cheap).
When Mondale stepped into his role as head of Clinton’s campaign finance commission in 1996, Rocket Man and I wrote a long article about all this for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The article appeared there as well as in a shorter form in the Washington Times. I’m taking the liberty of posting the shorter version of the article for whatever interest it may have in this context. The piece is “Fritz ’56: Reflections of the Young Mondale on Campaign Finance Reform.”
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