Former Vice President Walter Mondale flew to Atlanta earlier this month to see his old political partner, Jimmy Carter, after the former president went public with a grim cancer diagnosis.
Dining with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at their Atlanta home on September 8, Mondale said there was no sense of a final goodbye. But he did tell the Carters some definitive things about the alliance that lifted a Georgia governor and a U.S. senator from Minnesota to the White House nearly 39 years ago.
"I talked about what they had meant to me and how much I admired them, and what a wonderful gift it was to have had those four years without a major embarrassment, and that he'd always treated me with decency and dignity, and I valued that greatly," Mondale told the Star Tribune Wednesday. "That's some of what we were talking about."
Carter is in the midst of treatment for a metastatic melanoma, which doctors were able to remove from his liver but which has also spread to his brain. He has continued to make public appearances, including when he was seen smooching with Rosalynn last week on the “kiss cam” at Turner Field during an Atlanta Braves game.
"He's not going to mope," Mondale said. "It's probably one of the great gifts of his faith -- he accepts it. He's gracious about it."
Carter was 56 and Mondale was 53 in 1981 when they left the White House, defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan. Four years later, Reagan defeated Mondale. Today they are 90 and 87. When Joan Mondale died last year, Carter came to Minneapolis to eulogize her.
"We stay in good touch. I think I can say we remain close. It's not a thing that happens with most presidents and vice presidents," Mondale said with a chuckle.
Carter kept Mondale involved in White House decision-making, and the two are often credited with making the vice presidency more relevant. The two did not know each other well when Carter picked Mondale, who believes he got the nod thanks mostly to his relationships in Congress and his close ties to powerful Democratic interest groups.
"I was in more union halls and at more Democratic dinners than any living American," Mondale said. "If I'd done any more of it, I wouldn't be living."
Mondale is paying close attention to the 2016 presidential race, no longer an insider but still a sharp observer. He supports Hillary Rodham Clinton and said he’d be surprised if one of his successors, Vice President Joe Biden, decides to get into the race.
“He’s had eight great years in the White House. This could be a heartache for him,” Mondale said. “But you know, politicians sometimes hear the call. I heard it from time to time. It’s hard to resist.”
Patrick Condon • 651-925-5049