Former Vice President Walter Mondale Addresses DNCC
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JIM LEHRER: We are now joined by a man who knows firsthand what John Kerry is facing later tonight, and beyond.
And of course he’s former Vice President Walter Mondale, who was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1984.
Mr. Vice President, welcome.
WALTER MONDALE: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: 1984, your acceptance speech gets a lot of mention, because earlier somebody says well you got points for candor what you said about raising taxes.
Tell us about that, how did that get in there and what did you have in mind when you said that?
WALTER MONDALE: Well, I went through a process, you know, out on the campaign you’re internalizing things, and then maybe a month or three weeks before you give that speech you realize it may be the most important one of your life.
And you start getting advice and they take polls, and you get different graphs, and you finally realize that this is something you have to decide yourself.
And while you’ve talked to many people, I think the most important conversation is the one I had alone with myself about who I was, and where I wanted to take — and what I wanted people to hear from me and what I would do, and that sort of liberated me because that’s when I said well, we’re going to have to raise taxes, so I think I’ll say so.
And some of the other themes about the deficit, kind of undemocratic, but I felt those deficits were way out of line, and I said so.
JIM LEHRER: The thing that gets the attention as you said, I will raise your taxes and so will Ronald Reagan, but I will tell you I’m going to do that.
WALTER MONDALE: Right. Right.
JIM LEHRER: When you decided to do that, did you realize what you were doing, that this was not a thing that most politicians do?
WALTER MONDALE: Absolutely. I did it because I thought if I got elected president and I said oh, by the way, you’ve got a big deficit here and I have to raise your taxes, there’s a kind of a fraudulent smell to that, and it was obvious to everybody, and I thought by making this issue, which was real and solid, that every day that people thought about it, I’d get stronger.
JIM LEHRER: All right now, you caught a lot of heat about it -
WALTER MONDALE: I did.
JIM LEHRER: — a lot of backlash about it. Do you regret it now that you did it?
WALTER MONDALE: No. It’s probably one of the things I most… I don’t say admire about what I said, but I’m really glad I did it.
It’s something that I felt good about, and I thought I told the truth.
JIM LEHRER: And even if it hurt you in the election -
WALTER MONDALE: And I don’t think…I’m not sure it did. I think there are a lot of other factors at work. It may have hurt me. But I don’t think truth telling is a bad idea.
JIM LEHRER: We’re talking now about John Kerry. And based on your experience – not of the particular words or whatever – but just based on your experience of giving this important speech, just like he’s doing tonight what do you think he, John Kerry, now has riding on this speech, based on the politics of the moment tonight, sitting here what the polls say vis-à-vis him and President Bush, et cetera?
WALTER MONDALE: I think this is a very, very important night for him tonight, maybe the most important in the campaign, maybe the first debate will be equal to it.
But tonight the nation is really going to be watching and listening to John Kerry and asking whether they want him to be president and remove the existing president.
I think he’s got to tell us what’s inside him, where he wants to take us, what he really believes, in a way that people connect with it and feel they’re part of it and want to go in that direction.
JIM LEHRER: Why have they not connected with him thus far?
WALTER MONDALE: Well, I think he has connected, but not enough. In other words, there seems to be a kind of a gap that Bush is forfeiting in this campaign, but Kerry hasn’t quite yet been able to fill that gap.
And tonight I think is his chance to do it.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think his gap is a personal or a character gap? Or is it an issue gap?
WALTER MONDALE: I think that he’s a very able and smart man.
And I think he tends to talk in theoretical structures that make sense, means a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily connect with the voters.
I think he has to find a way to say the same thing through examples that people can follow and feel good about.
JIM LEHRER: David has said many times that he’s got to demonstrate, what do you say about being the commander in chief, or – tell the people…
DAVID BROOKS: One of the things that’s said about him is that he’s good under pressure. I was just wondering if you could talk about the pressure of the moment.
I’ve always wanted to ask this question: You come to this city, you got a stadium full of people, the whole city shuts down, the nation’s attention is on one person.
Is John Kerry incredibly nervous now, is he feeling incredible pressure? Is that what one goes through on a night like this?
WALTER MONDALE: Yeah, I think it’s unavoidable because this is it, tonight. And you can’t hide it if you fail. And it’s going to be great if you succeed.
These are hard speeches to give in this hall, as well as to the American people. And sometimes the poll is a little bit different about what might work here and what the American people sitting in their living rooms might want to hear.
And he knows it, he’s been around, and I’m sure he’s going to be up to it.
JIM LEHRER: But in terms of where the race stands, refresh our memory, in ’84, where were you in the polls?
How did you feel about where were you in the polls, how did you feel about where you were in terms winning the election, when you came to make that speech?
WALTER MONDALE: Remember, I was running against Ronald Reagan, which was a foolish thing to do in the first place.
So I don’t remember, something like 15 moving toward 20 points behind when the convention started.
And when we left we were three or four points ahead. We had a very good convention, I think. I think for —
MARK SHIELDS: Dick Wirthlein, who was Ronald Reagan’s pollster, told me the one night of the year where Fritz Mondale and their polling led Ronald Reagan beyond the margin of error was the night that you named Geraldine Ferraro as your running mate.
And they got quite nervous.
WALTER MONDALE: And you could feel it. In fact one of the problems, the way, it was something, something had happened in America.
JIM LEHRER: Now contrast your situation, you came into the thing behind. Now John Kerry comes into this tonight dead even almost. I mean, what is the latest polls?
So what kind of pressure does he have to pick up on Dave’s thing to maintain what he’s got and get the rest?
WALTER MONDALE: I think it’s more than winning, you know. I think it’s also establishing stature that you need to have a strong presidency, and that’s part of what’s going to happen tonight and I believe he’ll do it.
So to that, he has to talk about how he can make America safer and how he does reflect American values. I think the domestic side will be easier than the international side.
But he knows that, and I think that he’s going to deal with that.
DAVID BROOKS: So you think he’s right there — we’ve had a series of speeches tonight on foreign policy, you think he’s right to focus on that and pay less attention to some of the domestic issues?
WALTER MONDALE: I think that the domestic issues must be dealt with here. But it’s easier to do it because most of the domestic issues and his stands are very consistent with what the American people want.
But then he has to set the stage in terms of commander in chief, in terms of leading America to a stronger relationship around to all those things that build American stature.
He’s got to deal with that in a strong way, the fact that he was a hero in the Vietnam War is given; nobody argues about it and it helps build the basis for him to go to this second level.
MARK SHIELDS: Mr. Vice President, you first came to national prominence at the 1964 Democratic Convention when you had the tough assignment of solving the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and working out a compromise on that as attorney general of Minnesota.
JIM LEHRER: That was a huge piece of history.
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. No question. And 20 years later you were the nominee, and here we are 20 years later.
So in that 40 years, would you say the Democratic Party of 1964 is closer to the Democratic Party of 2004 — I mean in the sense of military and the sounds of patriotism and the comfort with speaking of the warrior and support of the warrior – so much of it — for a long time it seemed they celebrated, those who opposed the war. I’m just curious how the party has changed.
WALTER MONDALE: I think 9/11 has changed every one of us, and Americans have reason to be anxious.
And they want someone they know is going to really be there to protect them.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think the Democratic Party expects from John Kerry in terms of Iraq?
What do they want him to do? Forget the Democratic — the country -what do they want him to do?
WALTER MONDALE: I’m not writing his speech, but I didn’t like going in to that war and said so. I thought we should have had a much more muscular inspection system through the U.N. and so on. And I think that position has been vindicated.
But we’re there now and I don’t think we can get out of there, we have to find a way of strengthening our position, getting more help in there, getting the support of the United Nations, the international community and trying to get some of our people who have been held back, get other countries to come aboard and help us do this, and then as quickly as possible try to get a structure in place that allows the Iraqi people to take over their own government.
Almost everybody says what I just said.
JIM LEHRER: Exactly.
MARK SHIELDS: But that doesn’t sound that much different from, you know what John Kerry stands for, what George Bush has now stands for.
So we’re essentially saying that the argument is that Kerry can do it and Bush hasn’t been able to?
WALTER MONDALE: No, I wouldn’t say — I’ve got another argument here — that Bush has so undermined the stature of America by going into this war with misleading issues, things that now have been almost totally discredited from every source, by a sort of belligerent, unilateral approach to the rest of the world, by the contempt he showed when he went to the U.N., that the way he has helped lead to a divided America, I think all of that has weakened us and that’s a part of the war against Iraq — having a strong America at home and in those ways.
And I think Kerry’s got a chance to restore that.
I don’t think Bush does.
So I think there’s a real issue here, and I think that Kerry would try much harder than this president to get that international support and international legitimacy.
DAVID BROOKS: What’s the evidence that France, Russia and China would never go into Iraq? When we talk about the international community we’re really talking about them, they’ve never done it no matter how much we sweet talk them.
WALTER MONDALE: I don’t know, I don’t think anybody knows. But I think the way we did it guaranteed that most of the world would not come along with us. All over the world, politicians and democracies now, friends of ours are getting elected running against us. That’s bad.
MARK SHIELDS: Your own convention you had Mario Cuomo and Jesse Jackson.
WALTER MONDALE: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: Barn burner speeches before your speech. We had Barack Obama here on Tuesday night, and Bill Clinton did too.
JIM LEHRER: And John Edwards last night.
MARK SHIELDS: Is that a help to a nominee?
WALTER MONDALE: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: To have these really good speakers first, or does it by comparison put greater pressure upon you accepting the nomination?
WALTER MONDALE: I can tell you what I was doing, I knew Cuomo can state my case about social justice at home and ways, in fact that night we started coming up and Jesse Jackson represented a new dimension in American life and in our party and I thought he should speak, they both gave powerful speeches, and it connected with the American people.
It helped me.
JIM LEHRER: Helped you?
WALTER MONDALE: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: Well you’ve helped us tonight understand a lot and we appreciate your coming by.
WALTER MONDALE: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Our best to you.
WALTER MONDALE: Thanks so much.