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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Mondale’s Instructive Musings

Jane Mayer has an interesting post at The New Yorker, based on her telephone interview with former Vice President and Democratic Presidential nominee Walter Mondale in advance of his forthcoming memoir, “The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics.”
While it’s always good to give a fair hearing to the political advice of Democratic winners, like Bill Clinton, I think there is also value in hearing what smart candidates who have lost elections — those who have learned the lesson — have to say. I would say Mondale fits this description, perhaps better than his ticket mate Jimmy Carter, based on Mayer’s article and Carter’s recent comments about Senator Kennedy blocking health care reform.
Here’s Mondale, comparing his experience as Carter’s veep to the Democrats current predicament, as reported by Mayer:

…He could not help noting the similarities between Obama’s embattled White House and Carter’s. The problems that he and Carter faced from 1976 until 1980, he recalled, often seemed “overwhelming,” with “no good answers” in sight. As the economy was ravaged by what was known as “stagflation,” he said, the public “just turned against us–same as with Obama.” He went on, “People think the President is the only one who can fix their problems. And, if he doesn’t produce solutions, I’m telling you–when a person loses a job, or can’t feed his family, or can’t keep his house, he is no longer rational. They become angry, they strike out–and that’s what we have now. If you’re President, they say, ‘Do something!’ ”
…Mondale recalled that President Carter, as his standing in the polls slid, “began to lose confidence in his ability to move the public.” The President, he said, should have “got out front earlier with the bad news and addressed the people more.” He sees a similar problem with Obama: “I think he needs to get rid of those teleprompters, and connect. He’s smart as hell. He can do it. Look right into those cameras and tell people he’s hurting right along with them.” Carter, on the other hand, he said, might not have been able to. “At heart, he was an engineer,” Mondale said. “He wanted to sit down and come up with the right answers, and then explain it. He didn’t like to do a lot of emotional public speaking.”
…”In my opinion, Obama had a few false presumptions. One was the idea that we were in a post-partisan era.” The other was “the idea of turning things over to Congress–that doesn’t work even when you own Congress. You have to ride ’em.” Further, he suggested that Obama should stop thinking about what he can get from the Republican opposition: “You should explain clearly what you want, and, if they oppose you, attack them for it.”

Mondale worries about the public’s “outsized expectations,” but he says of Obama “he’s in a fairly good position to keep the Party united.” Coming from one of the lions of Democratic liberalism, that’s encouraging.

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