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Al Gore on how Walter Mondale made the vice president’s role a ‘substantive partnership’

Former Vice President Walter Mondale passed away Monday night at the age of 93. He was a lifelong public servant who transformed the role of vice president, and championed civil rights under President Jimmy Carter. For more on the way he changed the role of vice president and his political legacy, we are joined by another former Vice President, Al Gore.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The ways he revolutionized the role of vice president impacted many who came after him in that position, including the vice president who came along 12 years after Mondale left office, Al Gore.

    And he joins us now from Nashville.

    Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for joining us.

    And we invited you here to speak about Walter Mondale, but I do first want to ask your reaction to the verdict in the Derek Chauvin case in the killing of George Floyd.

    What are you thinking about that this evening?

  • Al Gore:

    Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me to honor Fritz Mondale. And thank you for that question, Judy.

    I found the verdict very emotional. It was very powerful. It was a sense of relief that — not because a man went to prison, although justice decreed that, but relief that the moral arc of the universe bent ever so slightly more toward justice today.

    And it gave a sense of redemption for the rule of law, for the legal system, because, in so many cases similar to this, with a white policeman and a Black victim, the outcome often was one that caused consternation.

    This was a superb prosecution. And it brings some sense of closure to all of those who rose up in horror at the murder of George Floyd. And, of course, as many have said, justice requires continuation of the efforts to fix the systemic injustices that were so evident in that murder.

    But it was a welcome relief to hear that verdict.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just one other thing, and I'm going to ask you to maybe adjust your microphone up a little bit. We're having a little bit of a hard time hearing you.

    But while you do, Vice President Gore, tell me if you think things will change. What we're hearing tonight in reaction to the verdict is that people hope our justice system may be, in some way, a justice system that is fairer, that is, frankly, one that is more respectful of all Americans.

    How do you see that?

  • Al Gore:

    Yes, I — there was a sense of closure and a sense that the rule of law was redeemed. And there was a great relief.

    I tried to say earlier — I'm sorry for the mic — that the moral arc of the universe bent a little bit more ever so slightly toward justice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I do want to turn now to Walter Mondale, who, of course, served as vice president from 1977 to 1981. And, in many ways, the role he played did transform the office.

    How do you see the example that he, in that role, in his time, set for you and others in that position?

  • Al Gore:

    Well, I have said it before, and I will say it again. You can take all of the vice presidents in American history, Judy, and divide them into two groups, before Walter Mondale and after Walter Mondale.

    Before he assumed that position, he conducted a very careful study of the vice presidency and came up with a set of recommendations that former President Jimmy Carter, to his credit, accepted. He was the first to move into the West Wing. He had a very substantive partnership role with President Carter.

    He thought it through from soup to nuts. And every vice president since then has had an opportunity to review the memo that Walter Mondale provided. His friend Dick Moe played a role in it. And I certainly did. I heard Joe Biden say that, when he became vice president, he did the same thing.

    But Fritz Mondale really deserves the credit for elevating the vice presidency into a position where it could be far more useful to the incumbent president and, therefore, to the country as a whole.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see his legacy overall? We know — we have just aired some excerpts from his speeches over time, of course, the speech at the convention in 1984, when he spoke about raising taxes.

    But how do you see the lasting — how he will be seen in history?

  • Al Gore:

    Well, he was a fighter for civil rights and was known for that. He was an environmentalist. He passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, before the first Earth Day. He was a progressive on issue after issue.

    He was extremely intelligent, very focused, hardworking. He was a great senator. He served with my father in the Senate. And then he was a great ambassador during the Clinton/Gore years in Japan. He was an absolutely excellent public servant in every way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And choosing Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated by a major party to be vice president, what's the significance of that?

  • Al Gore:

    Well, he said that he made history with that choice, and he certainly did.

    And he was — he was correct that it was the beginning of things to come, absolutely. And we might not have a woman as vice president today, except for Fritz Mondale's political courage. Hard to think back that it required such courage, but it did. And he broke new ground and paved the way for women to rise to their rightful position, whatever position they seek.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In today's very rough-and-tumble, highly polarized, partisan political environment, Vice President Gore, how do you — how does what Fritz Mondale stood for, how he worked his way in the world of politics, how do you see that as a contrast?

    What does it look like to you?

  • Al Gore:

    Well, when Ronald Reagan made that famous quip during their last debate, I always focus on Fritz Mondale just laughing uproariously at the line, because it is — it gives you a sense of the fact that he could rise above partisanship and conflict.

    And he was that way in the United States Senate. He was that way as vice president. It was a different era, of course, but he reveled in bipartisanship. He worked with his Republican colleagues. And, like many, I wish we could get back to that spirit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, certainly, we saw him graciously concede when he lost the race in 1984 for president.

    Vice President Al Gore, thank you so much. Very good to have you.

  • Al Gore:

    Thank you, Judy.

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