Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2002/ 30 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Fritz Mondale, the soggier half of the Carter-Mondale team, still has gall, which in certain circles is enough to pass for guts.
Mr. Jimmy has spent his golden years sawing boards and driving nails for the poor, observing elections ("building democracy") in Haiti and Bosnia and making sure the North Koreans could build their own nuclear weapons in peace.
Fritz has been knocking down the big bucks on half a dozen corporate boards, and yesterday he unveiled, if that is the word, the new Fritz: grand old man of the party, class warrior, and New Democrat (sort of). The populism of the liberal elites.
Minnesota injected a little pizazz into a campaign that had been merely a demonstration of how a party, when it really wants to, can bend, fold and mutilate inconvenient election laws. Old Fritz, straining mightily to prove that at 74 he's not on the fritz, injected suspense. What was supposed to have been a cake walk in Minnesota now resembles a mannerly food fight.
Mr. Jimmy's veep yesterday accused Norm Coleman, the Republican candidate, of fronting for "special interests," though presumably not for the same special interests that Mr. Mondale himself is fronting for, and called Mr. Coleman a creature of "the right wing," an "arbitrary right-to-lifer" who runs with "the right-to-life crowd." It's not clear whether an arbitrary right-to-lifer is worse than a discretionary right-to-lifer, but Fritz, whose Junior G-man eyeglasses gave him the look of a wrinkled bookworm, sounded disapproving. Mr. Mondale, in the debate televised by C-SPAN, seemed unfamiliar with the nomenclature of contemporary debate, and threw out the words and terms that his handlers told him were hipper, or at least more recognizable, than the buzzwords of the Carter-Mondale era, such as "nuclear freeze," "malaise," "hostages in Iran" and "20 percent inflation."
The Democrats, having resuscitated Mr. Mondale, are trying to present him as the patriarch of the clan, standing above mere mortals consigned to gritty campaign politics. But it doesn't seem to be working. Norm Coleman has closed the compassion gap; indeed, by one poll, taken for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio (which ought to validate its ideological purity), he has taken a statistically respectable lead over Mr. Mondale.
What the Democrats seem not to have realized is that most of the voters in whom a grand old man might stir a little nostalgic longing are dead. Mr. Mondale last won an election in Minnesota 18 years ago, and even then he came within 4,000 votes of losing the state to Ronald Reagan, who spurned the entreaties of his wise men who calculated that just one last airport stopover would give the Gipper an unprecedented 50-state sweep. It's hard to find a presidential candidate with the ability to lose his own state.
Mr. Mondale last ran for the U.S. Senate in 1970; no one under the age of 53 ever voted to elect him to the Senate. Minneapolis and St. Paul, two of America's most livable cities, and its suburbs are crowded now with young families who arrived from elsewhere, and regard Walter Mondale only as a once-famous politician cleaning up in his old age by calling in chits and cashing in on IOUs collected over decades at the public trough.
But the party hacks remember exactly who he was. That's why he was rolled out at the conclusion of what was to have been a triumphant memorial service for Paul Wellstone, the one remembered in Minnesota, even by Democrats, as a colossal disaster. They reluctantly agreed to the debate yesterday, only because a grand old man can hardly hide out for the entire campaign, even in a campaign of less than a week.
The hacks know that campaigning was never something that Fritz did well. He was "selected" for his public offices, first as state attorney general, then U.S. senator and finally vice presidential candidate without fighting through a single contested primary. Nobody would have beaten Ronald Reagan in 1984, but Fritz made sure that nobody would ever accuse him of making the Gipper pop a sweat. He chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, who spent the campaign trying to explain that maybe there were crooks in her family but she wasn't one of them, and then Fritz tried to explain away his first campaign promise, made in his acceptance speech, that if elected he would raise everyone's taxes.
Maybe it was inevitable that Fritz would make a race of what looked a week ago like a Democratic runaway. Given the givens - that American voters, with an excess of compassion, often show a weakness for grand old men and widows with no other means of support and elect them to high office as a form of assisted living - he might be back on his way to Washington.
What a country.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.