In candidate Mondale, Paul Wellstone’s legacy lives on

W By Libby George and Andrew Pritchard

when Walter Mondale left elected office for the last time in early 1985, the world had two Germanys, keeping Western technology from the Soviet Union was a national security priority and the public had just been introduced to “Star Wars” as both a motion picture and a nuclear defense initiative.

But many of the issues Mondale cared about and campaigned on remain hot-button political controversies, and some of Mondale’s views parallel those Sen. Paul Wellstone advocated until his Oct. 25 death.

Human rights

mondale joined former President Jimmy Carter both during his administration and afterward to advocate for human rights worldwide.

During the 1984 campaign, Mondale opposed U.S. arms sales to dictatorships and criticized a CIA pamphlet he described as giving instructions for assassinations to agents in South America.

“There are two ways America can be defeated: by succumbing to our enemies or by becoming like our enemies,” he said. “We must do neither.”

Mondale picked up the human rights theme Wednesday after the DFL State Central Committee nominated him to run in Wellstone’s place on Tuesday’s ballots, and he said the United States should work with its allies on global issues.

“That’s the belief that won Jimmy Carter the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said. “That’s the course the first President Bush took. That’s where Paul Wellstone stood, and that’s where I will stand in the United States Senate.”

Mondale opposed former President Ronald Reagan’s administration’s “Star Wars” proposal for space-based nuclear defense and urged supporters to “draw a line at the heavens.”

During that year’s campaign, he also called the Reagan White House’s terrorism policy a “ghost ship” with no one in control.

“The worst thing you can do is talk in the abstract about what you would do about terrorism,” he said.

Wellstone’s famous vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq parallels Mondale’s foreign policy views. Before their death, Wellstone and his wife Shelia also advocated international human rights issues, and Wellstone authored legislation – including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act – to prevent the trafficking of women and children. He also helped pass the Torture Victims Relief Act, which provides financial support to torture victims around the world.


as a senator, Mondale also campaigned for rights within the United States, supporting the civil rights movement and promising to appoint officials who would enforce equal-pay laws and affirmative action programs.

He was also one of the few politicians to endorse the concept of “comparable worth,” which determined how much people earned for particular jobs.

Equal pay for equal work was not enough, Mondale said during the 1984 campaign. Men and women were paid differently because they did different kinds of work, and thus, he reasoned in a position paper, each job’s value to society should be compared to every other job, and “comparable worth” should determine how much employers paid each worker.

Campaigning with running mate Geraldine Ferraro, the only woman to ever appear on a major-party presidential ticket, Mondale pitched a national clearinghouse to facilitate the comparable worth program, and he supported the subsequently defeated Equal Rights Amendment.

Before his death, Wellstone worked to ensure equal rights for the large Somali population in Minneapolis.

“He used to call us from Washington, D.C., and ask us, ‘How are things going?’ ” a representative from the Somali community told Mondale during a campaign stop Thursday.

Man of the people

mondale was often compared to former President Harry Truman for his folksy style, impromptu one-liners and comments about underdog victories during his earlier campaigns.

At one farm campaign stop, Mondale spoke from the top of a manure spreader and remarked that “this is the first time I’ve ever spoken on a Republican platform.”

Mondale was also significantly more popular among college students than in the electorate as a whole.

A poll of 1,626 undergraduates at seven Ivy League schools in late October 1984 gave Mondale the lead over Reagan, 53 percent to 34 percent. The survey had margin of error of 5 percentage points. However, an NBC poll of 1,538 likely voters nationwide at the same time found 58 percent support for Reagan against 34 percent for Mondale, with a 3 percentage point margin of error.

Wellstone was also an underdog to whom many Minnesotans, particularly students, related on a personal level.

In 1990, Wellstone surprised everyone when he unseated incumbent Rudy Boschwitz in the Senate by less than two percentage points.

Wellstone’s mass of volunteer supporters – 500 of whom filed in during his memorial service – were also a testament to Wellstone’s popular support.

Clad in green Wellstone T-shirts, Wellstone’s trademark throng of student volunteers were often noted by political scientists as a serious weapon in Wellstone’s arsenal during campaigns.