Saturday, April 24, 2021

Remembering Fritz Mondale

in UW-Parkside Ranger, Kenosha Wis., Nov. 1, 1984
The news was quickly overshadowed — perhaps even in Minnesota — by the Derek Chauvin verdict this week, but we lost one of the good guys this week. Former Vice President Walter "Fritz" Mondale passed away Monday at the age of 93.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to honor the man by pulling up some of my old cartoons in which he was featured — with the recognition that, like most editorial cartoonists, I tend not to draw a lot of cartoons about what a swell person the object of the cartoon is.

July, 1978
This unpublished cartoon from my notebooks is the earliest Mondale cartoon I have. It was not necessarily the first Mondale cartoon I ever drew; I lost a folder with four years' worth of these sketches while I was in college, and I couldn't possibly tell you what I drew about the 1976 Democratic ticket.

I can tell you that Mondale, with Washington experience that his president lacked, was a vital asset to the Carter administration, which gave him an office in the White House and sent him on important foreign trips such as this one to Israel. Menachem Begin was not particularly receptive to the U.S. administration's criticism of its settlements on territory seized in 1967 and 1973.
August, 1980
This is another unpublished cartoon from my notebooks. Curiously, I don't seem to have drawn Mondale in any published cartoons during his vice presidency, in spite of my stint as editorial cartoonist at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, during those same years. Even when Mondale came to our campus to install College President Sidney Rand as U.S. Ambassador to Norway — the political highlight of the year at St. Olaf! — what did I draw for the Manitou Messenger?

I drew one cartoon that week about John Anderson's campaign for president, and another about the possibility of reinstating the draft (neither original of which I still have, nor any other cartoons from that semester).

Oct., 1983; in UW-Parkside Ranger, December 15, 1983

Drawing for another school newspaper, I took plenty of opportunities to draw Walter Mondale during his 1984 presidential campaign. I drew this one in October, 1983 when the movie "The Right Stuff" seemed tailor-made to benefit the campaign of Democratic astronaut John Glenn (although the cartoon only saw print as part of a "Berge's Year In Review" feature).

As a note of explanation for you youngsters, "Look for the Union Label" was an advertising jingle for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in the 1980's, pleading with consumers to buy union-made clothing rather than the cheaper imports that soon put the union's members out of work. And to you oldsters, I apologize for the earworm.

Dec., 1983; in UW-Parkside Ranger, January 19, 1984
Going into the 1984 campaign, Mondale had the endorsements of most of the major unions and liberal interest groups in the country.
July, 1984
What was a decided advantage for Mondale in the Democratic primaries (and even moreso in the caucuses) became more of a liability in the general election.

July, 1984
Even breaking ground by naming a woman, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY), as his running mate, failed win him the sort of credit it ought to have. It came off instead as catering to yet another interest group.

A lot has been made of Mondale's vow that because of Ronald Reagan's ballooning federal deficit, "Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did." He was right, of course: Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all had to raise taxes before the budget would balance. But it wasn't something Americans wanted to hear in 1984.

More significantly, the U.S. economy was on the rebound. A decade of escalating energy prices had come to an end, double-digit inflation was in check, business was picking up as interest rates fell; and Reagan was only too happy to take credit for it all. Reagan contrasted this renewed sense of optimism with the national "malaise" proclaimed by his predecessor, which he pinned on Mondale's tail at every opportunity.

in UW-Parkside Ranger, October 4, 1984
Reagan recovered from a shaky performance in the candidates' first debate with the quip during the second one that "I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." It was a scripted line, but Mondale reportedly knew at that moment that the election was lost.

The media had already come to that conclusion. Given television journalism's obsession with polls and sound bites, the only question about the outcome of the election was just how badly Mondale would lose.
in UW-Parkside Ranger, September 13, 1984

All things considered, it isn't fair to remember Fritz Mondale only for ending up on the bottom of the biggest electoral landslide in U.S. history, so here are just a few accomplishments from his career:

As a young senator, he co-wrote the Fair Housing Act of 1968, a pillar of federal civil rights legislation. He later engineered a 1975 bipartisan deal that ended the two-thirds rule for stopping filibusters, so that 60 senators instead of 67 could cut off debate.

Under President Jimmy Carter, he became the first vice president with a day job, as adviser to the president, not just a bystander. He called it the “executivization” of the vice presidency.

And as a Democratic presidential nominee, he chose the first female nominee for vice president from a major party.

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