He gives President Obama's administration high marks but is discouraged by the tone of the health care debate.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale joined his old boss Jimmy Carter on Wednesday in arguing that some opposition to President Obama's agenda is fueled by racial animus.
Asked at a Washington event whether he agreed with former President Carter that racism was behind some criticism of Obama, Mondale took a long pause before answering: "Yeah."
"I don't like saying it," Mondale said, adding that "having lived through those years, when civil rights was such a bitter issue, and when we argued those things for years ... I know that some of that must still be around."
He said the criticism of Obama seems "a little harsher" than what he has seen aimed at other presidents.
At a screening of a new documentary on his life, "Fritz," at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, the 1984 Democratic nominee for president lamented what he called a coarse tone in political life today, telling the audience: "It's been discouraging to watch this health care debate."
But Mondale had high marks for the Obama administration, praising Secretary of State Hil-lary Clinton and predicting Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican, would be remembered as one of the most "superb" men to lead the Pentagon.
Without mentioning former President Bush's name, Mondale compared Obama favorably to other recent occupants of the White House. "I find it a great relief just to hear somebody make sense," Mondale quipped to laughter and applause.
The former Minnesota senator also offered advice to Obama on how to move the health care reform debate on Capitol Hill.
"He has to learn how to push a little harder," Mondale said. "When there are big issues, the president has to get personally and intensely involved in order to move the Congress."