After a lifetime in public service and tens of thousands of speeches to one's fellow citizens, what's left to say? Walter Mondale confronted that question last Tuesday as the Humphrey School of Public Affairs presented the 87-year-old former vice president with a lifetime achievement award for public leadership.
Mondale's answers are worth noting. He shared two concerns for the consideration of a distinguished audience at the University of Minnesota's McNamara Center. One is a theme he's been sounding for a number of years — the threat to American democracy posed by big-money electioneering that's hidden from public view.
We share that concern. But we were more struck by his second, less predictable topic. Mondale urged the assembled Minnesota political leaders to "try to make a difference" in controlling gun violence — a chronic scourge brought again into national focus by the June 17 shooting deaths of nine African-Americans at a Charleston, S.C., church.
"Surely we must see that gun violence is disrupting our public processes, killing and maiming thousands of our citizens," he said. "Can we not at long last keep guns away from deranged persons, by adopting a strong national background check requirement for gun purchases?"
The prevalence of gun violence is "humiliating and shaming our nation," he said. "This doesn't happen in most countries." He related that as U.S. ambassador to Japan in the 1990s, it fell to him to meet with Japanese parents grieving the murder of their son, an exchange student in the U.S. who was shot while going door to door on Halloween. "The poor parents couldn't understand it, and I don't understand it either.
"It's time for us to get that behind us, and show as a nation that we will not tolerate it."
So much bloodshed for so long has led to so little response from government that many Americans have given up on the possibility of gun control. Their resignation has become an impediment to reform as potent as the gun lobby itself. That's why it's heartening that one Minnesotan who has contributed much to the American story through eight decades has not succumbed to hopelessness about the national disgrace of gun violence. If Walter Mondale has not given up this cause, no American should.