A sluggish U.S. economy, threats from Islamic fundamentalists and strong Republican challenges – Walter Mondale says he’s been there. The former Democratic Vice President offers words of advice.

Guests

  • Walter Mondale former U.S. Vice-President, U.S. Senator, Democratic presidential candidate and Ambassador to Japan. Author of "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics."

Transcript

  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Former Vice President Walter Mondale has compared the presidency to a unique four-year marriage contract in which divorce is not an option. In a new memoir, he writes about facing adversity in the White House, building President Johnson's Great Society and how his small-town Minnesota upbringing influenced his political views.

  • 11:07:33

    MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics." Walter Mondale joins me in the studio and throughout the hour, we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to drshow@wamu.org. How good to see you again.

  • 11:08:02

    VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALEHow good to be with you again, Diane.

  • 11:08:05

    REHMThank you so much.

  • 11:08:06

    MONDALEThank you. It's an honor.

  • 11:08:07

    REHMYou begin with the Take Care clause of the Constitution. Talk about that clause, what it says and why you believe it's so relevant now?

  • 11:08:21

    MONDALEI've always been moved by that part of the Constitution because it tells public officers, I believe it tells all of us, that we don't really have a right to lay back and let somebody else make the mistakes or just build a life around criticism and so on. We have to take care. It's an affirmative responsibility that the laws are obeyed, that they're implemented and that we build a society here that's worthy of the next generation of our future. And I think that affirmative, fundamental responsibility of our leaders and of our citizens to take care of our country and to build is something that I don't see really going on right now as much as I want to.

  • 11:09:17

    REHMWell, that's what I was about to ask you. How well taken care of you believe the country is right now, not sort of looking at particular groups or particular individuals…

  • 11:09:31

    MONDALEYeah...

  • 11:09:35

    REHM...but how well are we taking care of America?

  • 11:09:38

    MONDALEWell, I don't want to be just a naysayer here, but I think there's a lot of evidence. Tom Friedman was recently in China writing about all the things the Chinese, an authoritarian system, are doing to build mass transit, to build, getting ahead of us in solar and geothermal, pushing their colleges forward so that America's now slipping into the mid ranks of nations in the number of young people graduating from college. For 100 years, we were the nation that was leading everybody and I worry about the paralysis as I see it America. We're not getting anything done and so I think that sort of violates the take care idea.

  • 11:10:30

    REHMYou actually made some news last week, Vice President, when you told President Obama to dump the idiot boards. What did you mean?

  • 11:10:43

    MONDALE(laugh) Well, that's the teleprompters. You know, I don't want to be petty and I hope I'm not, but he uses those teleprompters all the time. And since I've used them, I know what it's like and you kind of look to the right and then to the left, look to the right, but your audience is right in front of you in that hall and in the country and he is so bright and so able that I think in some ways it undermines the way he connects with the American people. And so he didn't ask for my advice, but that's one suggestion that I had. And I've noticed the last couple of nights he doesn't use that teleprompter, so maybe something's happening.

  • 11:11:25

    REHMYou know, when he's out on the stump, he talks with people.

  • 11:11:26

    MONDALEYeah, yes.

  • 11:11:30

    REHMHe engages with people.

  • 11:11:31

    MONDALEYes.

  • 11:11:34

    REHMAnd he was, in my view, one of the most effective political campaigners I've ever seen, not even working with a teleprompter. What happened? What happened?

  • 11:11:46

    MONDALEI agree absolutely with what you said and I've seen him give speeches on the stump, no teleprompter, just giving his arguments and his appeals and I don't think anyone can be better than he is when he does that. But then for some reason, during the campaign and in the first year of his administration, everything seemed to be on teleprompters and even small meetings, I'm told. He'd come in there and read off these teleprompters and I think it undermines communications. Now, maybe there's a technique problem there I don't know, but it wasn't a big point, it's a minor point, but he...

  • 11:12:36

    REHMBut it's creating a big impact.

  • 11:12:37

    MONDALEYeah, yeah, but he's got to connect with people. They have to feel -- people are hurting in America, a lot of miserable Americans having tough problems and he can't solve them all and certainly most of them are not his fault, but he's the president and -- but the one thing he's got to do is, Americans have to feel every morning that their president is worried about them, cares about them and wants to do something about it.

  • 11:13:01

    MONDALEWhen Roosevelt was president, he had horrible problems, but the thing that had been reported by historians of that day is that people felt the president. You remember that famous scene about when they took the Roosevelt funeral train from Georgia and this old guy was standing next to the tracks. Somebody asked him, well, did you know Roosevelt? And he said, no, but he knows me.

  • 11:13:30

    REHMUh...

  • 11:13:31

    MONDALEAnd that connection, that connection...

  • 11:13:33

    REHMPerfect, perfect. Walter Mondale, the former vice president, his new book is titled, "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics." Join us 800-433-8850, you are truly a proud progressive.

  • 11:13:57

    MONDALEI am.

  • 11:13:59

    REHMWhat would you have done had you been in Mr. Obama's place when you took office, facing the kinds of challenges that he faced?

  • 11:14:13

    MONDALEYou know, I think he's done a very good job on a lot of those things and I don't want to be misunderstood. I support him. I think he's been an excellent president. I think he made two mistakes that I wouldn't have made, I don't think I would have because I've been around so long. One was the idea that we're living in a post-partisan world where the old fights that we used to have are things of the past and now we can vault all over those things and come up with a new way of deciding. It'd be wonderful, but it's never been true in America. We've always had political parties, we've always had these fights and so I think that was a mistake because I think we lost a lot on the honeymoon period while things were stalled and (word?) mistake.

  • 11:15:03

    MONDALEAnd secondly, I think that -- and I've been both in the Congress and in the White House. I think it was a mistake to delegate too much to the Congress. Congress has equal authority under the Constitution, but a president has to press the Congress. He has to send proposals up there, he has to put the pressure on, otherwise Congress just inherently dawdles and each member of Congress has to make his own idea that'll be popular at home. And to get national legislation in that way, I don't think, works very well.

  • 11:15:42

    REHMSo I want to go back to this idea of a post-partisan presidency, do you believe that in his effort to be that post-partisan president, he attempted to compromise too much with those who opposed him?

  • 11:16:05

    MONDALEAt first, it looked to me like he was sort of negotiating with himself. That he tried to come up with a formulation that to him looked like it should be appealing to other side and then he would offer that and the other side would bat it down. And then later, he changed into a more, I think, aggressive and assertive president, but we lost that -- that time and I think that we're in the middle of a pernicious, polarized country where the -- politics is not working the way it should. The civil dialogue is not there the way it used to be when I was in politics.

  • 11:16:55

    MONDALEI think part of it is because we've pushed religion onto politics so that issues that used to be civil debates, where people would argue and debate but could compromise, using that terrible word, are now becoming issues between good and evil and you don't compromise with evil. And I think a lot of that rigidity was there before the president came there and it continues to haunt us.

  • 11:17:25

    REHMThere were certainly statements from the opposition party saying, we want this president to fail right at the outset.

  • 11:17:40

    MONDALERight...

  • 11:17:43

    REHMMr. Obama did not seem to take that seriously.

  • 11:17:48

    MONDALENo, I think -- I think as I said, when he first came in he really believed that he could ride over the old partisan, and this was only one senator from South Carolina talking, he didn't engage at that level. He tried very hard, I think, to get a different kind of dialogue going across party lines and they didn't take it for one minute. You know, one of -- the high point to me, one of the really distressing things was that we set up that six-person committee of senators to come up with a healthcare plan and they sat there for the better part of half a year and so far as I know, they never agreed on anything.

  • 11:18:32

    REHMWalter Mondale, his new book, "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics." Stay with us.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMAnd here's our first comment on Facebook for former Vice president Walter Mondale, author of the "Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics." It's from Danielle who says -- and I think she reflects a great deal...

  • 11:20:22

    MONDALEYep.

  • 11:20:22

    REHM...of what many of us are feeling, she says, "I feel so discouraged by the attitude of Americans towards politics and elections. What can we do to encourage our fellow citizens to engage in issues and get more informed?"

  • 11:20:46

    MONDALEThat's the question right now. Get Americans really thinking and engaged, talking with their neighbors, their friends, learning as well as talking and voting. Right now, there's kind of a national turnoff. Predictions of voter turnout this election are fairly dismal. You can see the president going around the country talking to young people and minorities and so on urging them to vote because the predictions are dismal. In America, we can't force people to do anything like this. It has to be example, it has to be persuasion. There's a powerful case that America has enormous problems that require the best possible people...

  • 11:21:34

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:21:35

    MONDALE...that'll make decisions and listen and get things done, but that depends on the American people voting and talking and making it work. It also, in my opinion, the real answer to this polarization, this paralysis that I've never seen before, it has to come from the public. The public has to tell their politician, stop this childishness and sit down and work these things out. We've gotta have answers.

  • 11:22:04

    REHMWhat do you make of the Tea Party movement?

  • 11:22:09

    MONDALEYou know, I'm not sure. We're going through terrible times. In history, every time we've had profound economic problems where people are using their jobs, their homes and so on, a third party arises to express the public's frustration. And I think there's some of that in the Tea Party. The Tea Party is hard to define for me. I keep reading about it, who are they, what are they doing and I think many of them -- I heard Carter answer your question the other day, I was with him, he said he thought many of those people voted for him because they're people that were unhappy with what was going on.

  • 11:22:55

    REHMSo they're unhappy, but what I have heard from those I've asked is that they're in favor of eradication...

  • 11:23:09

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:23:09

    REHM...of large parts of the government.

  • 11:23:11

    MONDALEYeah, I've heard some of this rhetoric. First of all, it'll never work. You know, there's so much that's in our government that's there for a reason and it has to work. We need a strong defense, we need a strong presence internationally. We've got tremendous problems here at home and part of the answer is in an effective, confident, strong federal government. And I don't think anybody who hopes they're gonna just wipe that stuff away and we're going to have a better life, I think they're just wrong.

  • 11:23:50

    REHMOne of the elements of U.S. foreign policy that's upsetting people is our continued presence in Afghanistan.

  • 11:24:02

    MONDALEYep.

  • 11:24:05

    REHMI wonder to what extent you were able to read the excerpts of Bob Woodword's book in regard to the development of U.S./Afghanistan policy and what your reaction was.

  • 11:24:22

    MONDALEI've read some of the stories in Bob's book. I'm going to read his book. I haven't read it yet. It looked like there's -- is a big division in the administration over it. The president made the decision that was announced and I'm very skeptical about the sustainability of that policy. Now, by early 2011, the president made it clear that he can change course, but I think that -- I don't see much evidence that what we're doing is making much difference in Afghanistan now.

  • 11:24:59

    REHMI also wonder about the reports that the president's relationship with the members of the military...

  • 11:25:10

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:25:11

    REHM...the resignation of Jim Jones...

  • 11:25:13

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:25:14

    REHM...as director of National Security. What's happening?

  • 11:25:19

    MONDALEI think I should say I don't know because I'm not in this government. I know that the successor of Jim Jones, Tom Donilon, is a hugely gifted man and now with a lot of experience in this issues, so he is a strong choice, so I don't see that as weakening. I didn't know Mr. Jones, so I can't comment about him. You had the McChrystal retirement, which I think had its own explanation. Gates is still aboard, so I think the team is basically still there.

  • 11:25:59

    REHMBut the president clearly had some issues...

  • 11:26:03

    MONDALEYes, yes.

  • 11:26:04

    REHM...with the military...

  • 11:26:05

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:26:05

    REHM...that were not addressed.

  • 11:26:07

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:26:07

    REHMHe asked for a third way. He didn't get it.

  • 11:26:11

    MONDALEThe -- yeah, once again, the stories I read in Bob Woodward's book is that he was looking for an option so we wouldn't be in a Vietnam syndrome and from what I read, the military kept -- no matter what they said, they always kept coming up with wanting more troops and believing that they could deal with the Taliban. Well, Vice president Gore was arguing that the Taliban is a local group there, Pashtun tribes and so on. It's the al-Qaida that we should be concentrating on. They may be a couple hundred people in all of Afghanistan. Let's change this in a way that we're not drawn into a long kind of Vietnam debacle.

  • 11:26:57

    REHMHow comparable is Afghanistan to Vietnam?

  • 11:27:08

    MONDALEIn my book, I talk about -- in the final chapter I talk about things that bother me after 50 years of public life and one of them is -- has been what I think is the ignorance and irrational way that we've gone into disputes where if we'd known better, just understood the country, if we'd been able to stand back a little bit and not commit American might and American prestige and American young people over there in battle, we could avoid it.

  • 11:27:50

    MONDALEI think you look at Vietnam. We all thought I was a bad news Senator, that we had to stop the communists somewhere here. This is like protecting against the Nazi's and so on. In fact, the main forces were indigenous in Vietnam, they were opposed to all outsiders and they have been for 1,000 years and we got ourselves into a position of replacing the French. We look like another -- we kept saying, we're here for your freedom and they said, no, you're here as a colonial occupier. Iraq this -- while the details are different, it looked to me like a similar set of emotions.

  • 11:28:32

    REHMSo how did you personally react when President George Bush announced we were going into Iraq?

  • 11:28:43

    MONDALEI was opposed to it and I didn't see how this idea that it was connected with 9/11, that they did part of that attack. None of that was true. I'm no expert on Iraq, but I knew about their divisions, I knew how they'd just been put together as a country say 85 years ago, the tremendous divisions between the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds and all that and I thought we were stepping into something that would get us into real trouble and it did.

  • 11:29:14

    REHMAnd now in Afghanistan?

  • 11:29:18

    MONDALEYeah, at first, when we went in after 9/11 since, that's the source of the attacks, Bin Laden and others were apparently in Afghanistan. I supported that. But as it went along, it seemed to me increasingly that this was once again a part of that pattern of getting into internal affairs of a country, looking like an occupier and trying to manage things that are beyond our capacity to manage and that's what I fear is the case now.

  • 11:29:50

    REHMI want to go back to your view of politics and try to understand from your view what has changed from the time you were in Congress until today? What has discouraged lawmakers from trying to find a better way?

  • 11:30:21

    MONDALEI would start with the harsh polarization of American politics, which divided America as if there were a Great China Wall between us and undermine the capacity for civil dialogue and compromise, which is at the basis of everything we did. When -- and I won't spend much time, but I write in the book about those years of what I call the high tide, when we had maybe 22 Republicans, great names, Jack Javits, Cliff Case, you know, Percy, Jim Pearson. I won't go into anymore, but about 22. You could work together with them on all -- they were civil rights, they were Lincoln Democrats -- Republicans and they wanted to make things work. They're all gone now and their species has disappeared.

  • 11:31:13

    MONDALEAnd I think one thing I talked about early has been making civil issues, religious issues had something to do with it. I think that the role of big money in American politics has sort of rigidified the process. There is so much money pouring into American politics today. Every time there's an issue before the health committee or the finance, just -- the money just pours in, rivers of money and they want these officers to do something for them. And I think it rigidifies and in some ways humiliates the public process. That's another part.

  • 11:31:53

    MONDALEAnd this -- one of the things that I write about here is the effort, years ago, to change the Senate rules. When I came to the Senate, two-thirds, 67 votes, were needed to close off a filibuster and a new generation of conservatives came to the Senate headed by Jim Allen from Alabama who used those rules to paralyze the Senate. We couldn't get anything done. If they didn't like it, that was it. So I led the fight to reduce the number from 67 to 60, so you'd get filibuster after -- if you could get 60 votes. That passed and it made a big difference for a couple of years.

  • 11:32:38

    MONDALEThen with the change of this culture, 60 became a hill too high. And not only do -- is it almost impossible to get closer directly, they've started this new thing called the holds. They put a -- secretly, not even a Senator's name attached to it, they say, no, we won't consider this nominee. And there's about 200 nominees or so for the judgeship, for high office. Nobody listened to them. They will not be considered. Eventually may, they're not now. And on measures themselves. Set up a measure to do something about energy, somebody sends a note in there, put a hold on it, nothing happens for months. And I say, we've got complete paralysis and it sort of rewards anger and childishness and that's what we see too much of, so I'd like to see these rules reform to get some movement in the Senate.

  • 11:33:34

    REHMHow likely do you think that is?

  • 11:33:38

    MONDALEUnder the Constitution, the Senate has right to change its rules at the beginning of every session -- every congress and that's what we did in 1975.

  • 11:33:51

    REHMWalter Mondale, his new book is titled "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics." You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The question now becomes the election.

  • 11:34:10

    MONDALERight.

  • 11:34:11

    REHMAnd the issue before us is whether parties in control are going to change. Do you see that happening?

  • 11:34:24

    MONDALEYou know, I read the same polls that most people read. It looks grim for the Democrats, I would say. Most of the pollsters are saying they think there's a very good chance the House will go Republican. Others that say it won't, but there's a real risk there. Less certainty about the Senate, but even there, the Senate could go, too, or it might stay in the hands of the Democrats by one or two Senators, but it could be a big upheaval.

  • 11:34:54

    REHMUh, Vice president, you've mentioned religion. What about racism?

  • 11:35:02

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:35:03

    REHMDo you think racism has come into our system and with a black vice president...

  • 11:35:13

    MONDALEPresident.

  • 11:35:13

    REHM...do you believe that there has been a strengthening of that paralysis?

  • 11:35:22

    MONDALEIt could be. I lived in the time when we still had segregation law and I know how bitter that fight was to remove those laws and end official discrimination in America. And it's hard for me to believe that all of the public opinion that supported nearly 200 years of separation in American society disappeared the day after those laws were passed, so I think there's still some of that around, but I don't want to say -- I don't want to charge anybody with racism because I don't know and there's no evidence or data that one can act on. I just have a suspicion that with that background in American life, there's some of that still around and it may work to Obama's detriment, our detriment.

  • 11:36:15

    REHMThere seems to be a feeding of doubts both about President Obama's birth, both about his religion. All of that seems to be feeding people's doubts.

  • 11:36:31

    MONDALEYeah, well, you know, I don't know what to say about that. I think it's outrageous. He's an American, he's a legitimate strong president we elected. As he said, I didn't hide my race from the public, but those who doubt that he's an American, are they born here? I just find it hard to take it seriously.

  • 11:37:04

    REHMNow, is that representative of the religious line that you think has come into politics?

  • 11:37:15

    MONDALEI don't know if they merge. Maybe they work together. If I believe that what we're up against in this administration is evil, and I certainly don't believe that and I don't think most Americans believe that, then -- and I think he's violating basic religious faith, then I would probably feel that way, but I certainly don't feel that way and I have a hard time sympathizing with them.

  • 11:37:43

    REHMWalter Mondale. Short break, then your calls.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd it's time to open the phones first to Daytona Beach, Fla. Good morning, Wally, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:12

    WALLYGood morning. I would like to say good morning to Vice President Walter Mondale.

  • 11:40:18

    MONDALEGood morning, Wally.

  • 11:40:20

    WALLYAll right. You are the best president America never had.

  • 11:40:25

    MONDALEMy wife was telling me that yesterday.

  • 11:40:29

    WALLY(laugh) And I also want to thank you. You came to my rescue in 1979 when I was being detained from returning to the United States. You did not do anything but ask a question and without any answer, they allowed me back into the United States.

  • 11:40:44

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:40:45

    MONDALEWell, I'm glad to hear that.

  • 11:40:45

    REHMGood. Your question, Wally.

  • 11:40:48

    WALLYYes. I want to commend you on your comment about the teleprompters. The president need to dump the teleprompters. I have said that since the inaugurational speech and ever since that he is not facing -- looking directly at the American people.

  • 11:41:07

    MONDALERight.

  • 11:41:07

    WALLYAnd I feel disconnected whenever I watch him...

  • 11:41:11

    MONDALERight.

  • 11:41:12

    WALLY...and looking to the left and right. I always said I thought I was the only one feeling that way.

  • 11:41:18

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:41:18

    WALLYI don't know how we can get a message to him, but he needs to dump the teleprompters. Also your book, I will get a copy of...

  • 11:41:27

    MONDALEGod bless ya.

  • 11:41:28

    WALLY...because liberalism saved America during the depression years and ever since. But during your campaign against and with Ronald Reagan, it was Ronald Reagan who demonized liberalism. And it has been to the detriment of American progress ever since. I applaud you on your book and your memory and what you are doing to correct things.

  • 11:41:53

    REHMThanks, Wally.

  • 11:41:54

    MONDALEThank you. That was a good call, yeah.

  • 11:41:56

    REHMI should say.

  • 11:41:57

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:41:57

    REHMHow do you define a good liberal?

  • 11:42:02

    MONDALEI think a liberal in America is someone who follows Lincoln's advice to use government to do things that must be done, but cannot be done by the individual or done as well by the individual. In other words, it's not a ideological idea, but the idea that a government is there for us to use to do things that must be done and to do them well. I also think that I would add the word social justice to this discussion. Where would we be without civil rights laws? Where would be? And where would we be without Social Security and Medicare? They really made life for senior citizens and I've joined the ranks, a much more tolerable life than it would've been 50 years ago.

  • 11:42:58

    REHMI think people have forgotten that 50 years ago...

  • 11:43:03

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:43:04

    REHM...the elderly were living on the edge.

  • 11:43:08

    MONDALEYeah, Bob Burden once said, you know, for a senior citizen to get a major illness is about as bad as a report of an atomic bomb attack, because your life was ruined at that point. You couldn't pay the bills. And we changed all of that. And fortunately, I was a brand-new member of the Senate. I was so proud of it. My Mom had cancer and as soon as the insurance company heard about it, they canceled her.

  • 11:43:37

    REHMOh, wow.

  • 11:43:38

    MONDALEAnd I was able to call her and say, hey, Mom, we're all right, we just passed Medicare.

  • 11:43:42

    REHMHow about that.

  • 11:43:43

    MONDALEYeah, yeah, she loved it.

  • 11:43:45

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Effingham, Ill. Good morning, Brian.

  • 11:43:51

    BRIANMorning, how you doing?

  • 11:43:52

    REHMGood.

  • 11:43:53

    BRIANYeah, I wanna ask a question and just give a couple examples. One thing I'm curious about is at some point the Democrats or Liberals let the other side convince everybody that liberal was this bad word and even today, I get frustrated when I hear some of these Democratic guys on the stuff and they're running away from these things. And you just mentioned a few things, but, you know, why aren't they saying, you know, this is the history of, you know, these were the conservative thoughts that kept us from things. You know, it was the conservative thoughts that kept us in slavery, it was the conservative thoughts that kept the women down, it was the conservative thoughts that didn't, you know, wanted children to work 12 hours. You know, all these things...

  • 11:44:35

    MONDALERight.

  • 11:44:35

    BRIAN...they run from and the other thing is just recently, they're not attacking the false numbers I hear coming out.

  • 11:44:43

    MONDALEYeah, yeah.

  • 11:44:44

    BRIANYou know, you hear things like all this debt and stuff, nobody mentions that 85 percent of the national debt came from three Republican presidents.

  • 11:44:52

    MONDALERight. Well, no, I agree and I think you've got to fight. That's why I called my book "The Good Fight." It's not a tea party, but you can do it in a civil and direct way. There's a lot of information that I don't think is getting to the public because I don't think the fight is really an equal one right now.

  • 11:45:14

    REHMWhy not?

  • 11:45:15

    MONDALEWell, part of it is money. The amounts of money flowing into these campaigns is so lopsided and I think when we get the final data, when this campaign is over, we're gonna find out there was a gusher of money that came in the last three weeks as the result of these changes in the Practices Act that allowed companies use their treasury money and so on and there's a -- I read one story, there's like an eight to one advantage, so it's hard to get your story out, but we still should be debating it.

  • 11:45:50

    REHMBut now listen to the words, for example, of Newt Gingrich...

  • 11:45:57

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:45:57

    REHM...the other day, he was commenting on a piece written by Dinesh D'Souza. And in that piece, Dinesh D'Souza referred to President Obama's Kenyan father. And then Newt Gingrich said, what if the president is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together his actions?

  • 11:46:39

    MONDALEIt's despicable. The president has grown up in America. He was in Indonesia as a child, but the rest of his life has been here. He's gone to great American schools, he's worked on the streets of Chicago. He -- that's why he got elected. People knew him. To talk as though if he's some sort of alien from somewhere else who knows nothing about America is an outrage and Gingrich is good at that.

  • 11:47:09

    REHMWhy haven't more people spoken out against that kind of language?

  • 11:47:19

    MONDALEThey should, they should. And I think there maybe are people speaking out against it, but we don't hear it. But this is the kind of hateful ignorant attacks that if believed and this is the former Speaker of the United States, can undermine the essential morale of the American people. If you believe that our president is totally -- his culture and background is totally unrelated to our country, American background, which is totally false, but if you believe that, where do you go with it?

  • 11:47:54

    REHMHave you spoken with Newt Gingrich personally?

  • 11:47:58

    MONDALENot for many years and I don't have any current plans to do so. When I ran for that Senate briefly when Paul Wellstone was killed in that accident, he got on the air that morning and said that I had been a big opponent of extending Medicare and protecting Medicare. And I immediately said, I'm the person who wrote the report supporting Medicare. I was the original -- so he made the attack and just went on to the next one. He was dead wrong, but that's what they do. They just -- it's like throwing mud against the wall and see what sticks.

  • 11:48:39

    REHMTo Dayton, Ohio, good morning, Joe.

  • 11:48:43

    JOEHello, Ms. Rehm. I like your show. Thank you very much.

  • 11:48:46

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:48:47

    MONDALEHi, Joe.

  • 11:48:48

    JOEMr. Mondale...

  • 11:48:48

    MONDALEHow you doing?

  • 11:48:49

    JOE...a pleasure to talk to you. I'm okay. Thank you. Thank you for your years of service for the American people and especially -- I'm kinda young, I'm 43. I'm much into World War II history and I understand you flew B24's.

  • 11:49:00

    MONDALEThat's George McGovern. I was a draftee in the Korean War, but I didn't -- I was not in World War II.

  • 11:49:09

    JOEThat's my mistake, I apologize.

  • 11:49:10

    MONDALEThat's our good old friend, George McGovern. I talked to him the other day.

  • 11:49:14

    REHMHow is he?

  • 11:49:14

    JOEMy apologies.

  • 11:49:15

    MONDALEHe's doing great, yeah.

  • 11:49:16

    REHMIs he?

  • 11:49:16

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:49:16

    REHMGood. Glad to hear it. Thanks for calling, Joe. To San Francisco to David, good morning.

  • 11:49:25

    DAVIDMorning, Diane and Vice President.

  • 11:49:28

    MONDALEHow are you today, David?

  • 11:49:30

    DAVIDGood, good. You know, as matter of fact, I had come originally from St. Louis and my dad was a good friend of your niece there.

  • 11:49:36

    MONDALEOh, yes.

  • 11:49:37

    DAVIDMy dad, yeah, he played Santa Claus for many years out there.

  • 11:49:41

    DAVIDYou know, I wanted to ask you about NAFTA and the specifics of -- you were in office about 15 years before NAFTA came into being and so you would have some idea of the attempts to have passed it before it actually was implemented, much less the long -- we are only almost 20 years later and how it's proven to be such a horror, so I wanted to ask your historical view both from long previous of and to current. And before I did, you had a couple of people looking for advice on the word liberal.

  • 11:50:19

    MONDALEYes.

  • 11:50:20

    DAVIDAnd I think that one of the con jobs that the neocons have been using with that, is that if you use the catchphrase, buy in bulk, so for example, the U.S. government buys in bulk all the time. If it wants to fix highways, if it wants to have libraries or...

  • 11:50:36

    MONDALEYeah.

  • 11:50:37

    DAVID...fresh water systems, school systems...

  • 11:50:39

    REHMSure, sure.

  • 11:50:40

    DAVID...hospital systems, it buys in bulk. And so the neocons have always been hedging that idea of cronyism and getting their hands on some of that money. And so they're always trying to convince us that they're the master race that can run our property better than we can.

  • 11:50:57

    MONDALEWell, if we learned something in this recent economic collapse that we had in America, it is that if you deregulate those who manage our money and invest our money for us, self dealing and even greed can take over and lead to what we suffered from. So we do need government regulation. We need to oversee these things. Otherwise, we're in real trouble. That's why they passed the Financial Regulation Act this year. I hadn't heard of the bulk idea before, but that's -- I've got to think about that a little bit.

  • 11:51:34

    REHMDo you think that NAFTA has done harm to this country?

  • 11:51:41

    MONDALEI got to say I supported NAFTA at first. I thought it would work. It I think was important for trade between U.S. and Canada and was very positive. I'm sorry about how it worked out in Mexico because I thought it would build up Mexican employment and Mexican jobs. Instead of that, what happened was that more Mexicans fled to the United States and the economy was actually harmed. I think -- and one of the big selling points from NAFTA was the other way around, so I think if we perceived that as being what it ultimately became, we'd have shaped that bill differently than we did.

  • 11:52:26

    REHMWhat do you think could be done now?

  • 11:52:31

    MONDALEI would say review it, go over it, see where it needs to be corrected. I'm not an expert on this. And try to eliminate the parts that are one way and unhelpful.

  • 11:52:43

    REHMBut you are a free trader.

  • 11:52:46

    MONDALEI am. And that's why I answer it that way. Because we've got a lot of international trade problems now and I believe strongly that America has to assert its rights in those. But if we end up in kind of a 1930 closed-market answer, beggar thy neighbor approach, we will have another depression and the world will sink. And America, as the leader, has to try to provide leadership while being careful about its own interests.

  • 11:53:22

    REHMWalter Mondale, his new book is called "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Talk about Hubert Humphrey.

  • 11:53:40

    MONDALEYeah, well, you know, next year, 2011, is Hubert's 100th anniversary and we've got a lot of celebrations going on in Minnesota. And some of them will be at our nation's capital next year.

  • 11:53:53

    REHMHow did he influence you?

  • 11:53:55

    MONDALEHe was almost like a father to me. I got into politics when I came to college in, like, 1946. Hubert had been a professor of political science at Macalester where I went. Everybody was talking about him and I remember peddling literature for him for mayor of Minneapolis and I used to listen -- he was unbelievable. You know, he could speak -- well, Barry Goldwater said, who was a friend of Hubert's, he said, Humphrey can speak at about 250 words a minute with gusts up to 400.

  • 11:54:36

    REHMAnd you once got him to go into hostile territory, as far as voters were concerned. He just really revved them up.

  • 11:54:47

    MONDALEOh, yeah, he -- people who'd never heard Hubert missed -- really missed a treat. He could go into any kinda crowd. I heard the story, but he went down to North Carolina into Wallace country and a huge crowd, 4500, showed up. And he spoke to them for an hour and a half. And when it was over, they stood in line for another hour 'cause they wanted to shake his hand. That's -- the guy could do it -- did it all the time.

  • 11:55:16

    REHMEven in the hospital.

  • 11:55:19

    MONDALEOh, yes. When he was having -- had surgery for cancer, and we now know he was dying, he would get up out of his bed and he said, come with me, Fritz. And we went down that whole section of the hospital and he went into every bedroom and he knew everybody, their first name. And this one poor gal was dying of cancer. We walk in there and he said, isn't Martha beautiful today? And Martha felt beautiful and he had everybody in that ward in love with him. He did that everywhere.

  • 11:55:56

    REHMAnd, in fact, you have friends everywhere on all sides of the aisle, but we've got to do something...

  • 11:56:07

    MONDALERight.

  • 11:56:07

    REHM...to get our country working again. What's the message you want to leave with our listeners?

  • 11:56:17

    MONDALEWe are a great nation, the greatest of all. We have the power of reviving and restoring our nation that we've demonstrated again and again. We're in a ditch. Let's be frank with ourselves and say what we need to do as a great nation is now slipping. We need to -- instead of just sitting back and say, I don't like this, we need every American now to think about it, to talk about it and to go and vote and try to make a change, get our country moving. And we have some deep problems in Congress. We've talked about them, but that's -- we need to make America go again.

  • 11:56:59

    REHMAnd vote.

  • 11:57:01

    MONDALEVote, absolutely.

  • 11:57:03

    REHMWalter Mondale, he has fought indeed "The Good Fight," which is the title of his book "A Life in Liberal Politics." Thank you so much.

  • 11:57:15

    MONDALEThank you, Diane. It was great.

  • 11:57:16

    REHMGood to see you.

  • 11:57:17

    MONDALEThank you. I loved it. Thank you.

  • 11:57:18

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:57:19

    MONDALEThank you.

  • 11:57:19

    REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm

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