Walter F. Mondale
A new breed of vice president
The favorite son of Ceylon, Minnesota, Walter Mondale received his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1956. After a stint as Minnesota's attorney general, he was named and then elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1964 until becoming vice president.
On December 9, 1976, vice president-elect Walter Mondale sent president-elect Jimmy Carter a memo titled "The Role of the Vice President in the Carter Administration." Only a month after their victory, "Grits and Fritz" had already engaged in several serious discussions about the lack of definition and chronic underutilization that had long characterized the vice presidency. As Richard Moe, Mondale's chief of staff, described it, the office was "a constitutional afterthought designed solely to provide a president-in-reserve, and for 200 years it languished in obscurity, derision, and irrelevance."
Mondale and Carter set out to change all that--and in doing so, they redefined the role of the vice president for future generations. "The biggest single problem of our recent administrations has been the failure of the President to be exposed to independent analysis not conditioned by what it is thought he wants to hear or often what others want him to hear," Mondale wrote. "I hope to offer impartial advice and help assure that you are not shielded from points of view that you should hear."
In an unprecedented move, Carter placed Mondale's office in the West Wing of the White House. He arranged for close communication and coordination between staff assigned to the two men. In the end, these changes resulted in Mondale's being a valued advisor during many of the key moments of the Carter presidency, from the Iran hostage crisis to negotiations with the U.S. Navy over the Vietnamese "boat people." Vice presidents since Mondale have continued to serve as important advisors to and collaborators with their presidents.
Walter Mondale ran for president in 1984 but lost to Ronald Reagan. He served as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996. In 2002, after Paul Wellstone's death, he ran for the U.S. Senate in Wellstone's stead but lost to Republican Norm Coleman.
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