tv Tribute to Walter Mondale CSPAN May 3, 2021 3:51pm-4:33pm EDT
giving you a front row seat to democracy. next, a 2015 conversation between walter mondale and former president jimmy carter, who served together in the white house from 1977 to 1981. this program was part of a tribute to the former vice president, hosted by the university of minnesota's humphrey school of public affairs. moderating the conversation is richard moe. mr. mondale's former chief of staff. >> i'm humbled tonight by president carter's sprens with us, despite his personal health challenges. i was honored to be his vice president and to be with him at the center of most of his central decisions. we succeeded over our years together where many other
presidential/vice presidential teams have been shattered. what held us together is a deep shared common bond committed to truth and decency. and i never doubted the president's commitment to those values and i don't doubt it today. we also succeeded because we always lived up to his promise to welcome -- lived up to his promise to welcome me into the center of his presidency and to protect the dignity of my presence. he always, always kept that promise. we succeeded well for many of the reasons we'll discuss later tonight. we agreed on those issues. so, i'm here with you tonight to celebrate the life of this remarkable american. i love the guy. and i know -- let's give him a big hand.
>> as an observer of this experience, one of the things that's so impressed me has been the personal relationship that has developed and grown over the years between the two of you. mr. vice president, i know you went to atlanta a few weeks ago and you had dinner with president and mrs. carter. is there anything about that dinner you care to share with us tonight? >> quite a bit, yeah. >> the floor is yours. >> i called the president when the news came out and i watched your remarkable news conference, one of the class acts i've ever seen and i said, you know, mr. president, i can't help you on the health side, but why don't i come down and we'll spend an evening sharing stories about the good old days?
and you said, that's it, down we went, and we had a wonderful, positive evening and we had a chance to retell some old stories and to remind ourselves of what wonderful years they were. >> mr. president, is there anything about that that you'd like to correct the record, or -- or add to it? >> i think if we had recorded that evening, it would be probably much more entertaining than it's going to be tonight. >> oh, well. okay. all right. >> we talked a lot about joan and so forth, so -- i would say that the mondale family and the carter family are just about as close as any two families could be. and that's been the case since we first got acquainted with each other. we met for the first time extensively in plains when they came down to stay with me and
rosalynn. we had 600 people in town then and he got along well with the peanut farmers and i thought, if anybody can get along that well with peanut farmers, he'd make a good vice president. >> very good. thank you. president carter, you have many significant legacies from your time in the white house and we talked about that earlier today. we certainly are going to get into more of them this evening, but one of the most important, i think, is what the two of you did to shape this pure, neglected office of the vice president si. it has been a remarkable thing to see and we're happy that vice president biden is here today -- >> absolutely. >> vice president biden. as he spoke eloquently this morning about his and president obama's shaping of the office was really strengthened and
shaped by your experience. the -- i can't imagine -- well, let me ask you this. had you thought about the vice president si before hand? what was it that you really wanted in a vice president? >> well, i would say all the way through my political career, i always say that my favorite president in my lifetime was harry truman. and i was in the navy when harry truman basically ordained the end of racial discrimination and i was really shocked to learn later that truman was never informed about the atomic bomb and when i first began to explore possibilities of becoming president, before i knew i was going to win, i found out that until then, the vice president had never been briefed by the department of defense on
how to manage the atomic weapon in case we went to a nuclear war with the soviet union. so that -- that set me back and i began to realize that for all purposes, the vice president was still part of the legislative branch of government. his main duty was to preside over the senate in case of a tie, and i thought the vice president should be in the executive branch. when he came down to plains, but he had some ideas he wanted to explore about how the vice president could become an integral part of the administration and not separate, and so i suggested, why don't you go and talk to vice president humphrey and also vice president rockefeller. nelson rockefeller. and get some ideas about what might be done to bring the vice
president in closer to the president. and that was how the whole idea began and i think that's when he turned to you, if i'm not mistaken. >> you pointed him towards two vice presidents that had very unhappy experiences in the office. >> they did. >> that was telling. he did give it a lot of thought. mr. vice president, you said that what president carter gave you was the most generous gift of any president in american history. do you want to expand on that? tell us what you went? >> i would say the thing that worried me the most was, i was going to lose what i knew to be an independent position in the senate and that i might go down that same road that hubert and others went down, where they slowly had their dignity taken from them and they are not really involved in a meaningful role in government and it's kind of pathetic, what they went
every possibility of moving the vice president close to the president, he never had been in the -- he never had been in the white house before. and i -- i spent one weekend with hubert humphrey, because i found out just before he died and while he had serious cancer, that he had never had been permitted to go to camp david. >> that's right. >> and so i invited him to go and i had a speech to make on the west coast and i came back and picked him up in minneapolis. we went and spent the weekend at camp david, just me and him and his medical doctor, as a matter of fact. and he unburdened to me that weekend things that i'm sure he never had said publicly and never has since then, and that was the deprivation that he experienced as vice president. and the exclusion from any role
of authoritative nature, executive nature. and he was deprived ofim and he had to get all the press releases from overseas trips approved by the president before it could be issued and he was never involved in any serious discussions that lyndon johnson had with any foreign leader and he was restricted severely on his ability to go into the congress and start an original conversation with another member of the senate. it wasembarrassing to him and i think counterproductive. i decided then that i had done the right thing with fritz, because all of those things were changed when fritz became vice president. >> thanks to you and thanks to that conversation, yes. indeed. as you know, hubert humphrey was
a mentor to senator mondale and to many of us from minnesota. and -- >> to me, as well. >> and to you. and he suffered in the vice president si and even though he did, vice president mondale, he urged you to be open to the idea. you want to talk about that? >> yeah. i went to -- at your suggestion, i went to see hubert and i said, i think i've got a possibility of joining with mr. carter and running for vice president but in light of the experience you had in this office, and the kind of painfulness and humiliation of it all, what do you recommend? and he said, i recommend you take it. if you can get it. he said, it's wonderful, you'll learn more than any other way, you'll have more influence in one day than you'll have all year in the senate and he said, i hope you'll consider doing it.
now, i must say, i was never sure whether he wanted me to be vice president or he wanted to be minnesota's senior senator. >> well, he gave you the right advice and you did the right thing. >> yes, right. >> what did this mean to you, to have the office in the west wing, that president carter gave you? no previous vice president had been in the west wing? >> well, i think that was your idea. that meant everything. because if you are over in the eob, where most of the vice presidents had been, where hubert was, used to say it was like being in baltimore. >> some of us spent a lot of time in baltimore.
>> yeah, i know. it was good for you. i said -- i learned -- i was there for awhile and i said -- i was in this office, i was maybe five seconds from your office. all the key presidential aides were right there. we'd bump into each other, talk all the time. and i think at the very center of the white house is that very small west wing and if you -- if you're there, i think you're part of a serious effort. if you're outside of there, i don't know. so, it was a big, big advantage to me. >> right. >> and i think it helped me serve you. >> mr. president, the other thing that you did, besides coming up with the west wing idea, i know this because i heard you say it, you told your staff and your cabinet, i want
you to respond to a request from the vice president as if it came from me. >> exactly. >> and you said, because you knew the experience of vice presidents rockefeller and howl friday, if any of you are messing around with this guy, you're out of here. and that was the right thing to do. and that message came in loud and clear. thank you for that. >> well, it was very important. because in the past, quite often, the chief of staff or someone like that saw the vice president as a challenger to them and their own authority and their own influence. and i knew that could happen with my staff, as well. so, it was clear to me that everybody that worked in the white house should look upon me as an ultimate voice, but along with me, fritz mondale. so, they knew that. and also knew that you were the chief of staff for prits mondale and i wanted you to feel like you work for me and not just him. >> and i did. and you made sure of that.
>> that's right. >> so when judy power goat an order from fritz or sug session from fritz, they knew it was the same as coming from me. >> that's right. >> and i don't think we ever had any unpleasant disagreement as a result of that. >> made a huge difference, i can tell you. >> well, it did. before, senator humphrey had been forbidden to take an initiative in going to -- even a member of congress and talking to them about executive affairs. >> right. >> but i changed that, as well. i never had a meeting with any foreign leader from which fritz mondale was excluded. and i never had a meeting with a member of congress from which he was excluded. and one of the things that i was concerned about was the disharmony that existed then and now, before me and now, among the members of the national security staff. because we had the vice president after i got in office and the secretary of state and the secretary of defense, the national security adviser, sometimes the head of the
intelligence agencies, we met every friday morning. >> right. >> to discussion every possible issue that might come up in the weekend in terms of foreign affairs. and we would meet wednesday morning with the secretary of defense and the secretary of state to make sure they were doing what we had decided. >> right. >> and fritz mondale was always an integral part of that tiny meeting that shaped all the foreign policy. so far as i know, he was almost like another president. that's what i wanted. >> he thought that sometimes. >> yeah, i know he did. there was one thing that fritz did, though, that i think exceeded his authority. whenever there was a chance for me to go to norway or a country that i really admired, i was
always excluded from consideration. and the first thing i knew, fritz would be back, mr. president, i've just returned from norway. i was just planning to go to norway myself. he would give you a thorough report on what was going on in that wonderful country. >> you'll be pleased to know that the foreign minister of norway and the ambassador from norway are here this evening and they can arrange a trip. let's have you stand up. can you please stand? foreign minister and -- >> if you -- >> there we are. ambassador. >> if you ask anybody from those ancient days, back in the '70s, so forth, they don't know that i was president. >> really? really? >> this is a tough evening.
>> yeah. >> he can do that to you. >> i know. >> now, we're going to shift gears here a little bit, mr. president. i think he would welcome that. in your -- in the introduction of your marvelous new book, "a full life," and let me just give that a plug. you should all read "a full life" by jimmy carter. this is an extraordinary book. you quote in the introduction vice president mondale's fairly well-known summary of your four years in office. we told the truth, we obeyed the law and we kept the peace. and you added in the introduction, "and we promoted human rights." thank you very much for putting that in there. now, we all remember how you embraced human rights so firmly
and consistently and we became known in parts of the world in ways that we hadn't before because of that, and that's still true in many parts of the world. what was the motivation that made you make human rights such a priority? and then, if you would please, what do you see as the largest human rights issue in the world today? >> well, to go back to when i was a child, i grew up in a community where my family was the only white family there, so, i grew up in a group of about 215 african-americans. so, my whole life was shaped by african-american culture. and as i got older and older, i realized that there was a great deal of discrimination there. they couldn't vote, they couldn't serve on a jury, they had very interior schools and so forth, so that's the origin of it, and i've always been a
champion of human rights in small, limited ways. when i got to be president, of course, i put this out as one of my goals as president. and i saw soon that this resonated in russia, with the jewish-russians that wanted to come out and also i'd say just one quick example, in latin america. when i became president, almost every country in south america was a military dictatorship. colombia, peru, chile, argentina, paraguay, uruguay and so forth. our support for human right rights there, it made it possible for every country in south america to become a democracy. so, i think the practical results very much pleased me
while i was president, though it was still looked upon by some as a weakness instead of a strength. and i think to answer your question, i think the worst nation worldwide, human rights oppression now is against women and girls. there's no doubt about that. including in our cown country. we don't have some of the problems, but we have now more slavery than ever existed in the 18th and 19th century in the word. atlanta happens to be the number one trading post in america for slavery. >> really? >> we have more than 200 people ever month sold into slavery in atlanta. and the reason for this is, it has the largest and most busy airport on earth and a lot of the passengers that come in to atlanta on delta are girls with
brown and black skin and "the new york times" did a very long article last february or march that said that a black or brown-skinned girl in atlanta could be bought by a brothel owner for $1,000. and so this is -- female slavery comprises about 80% of the total and a lot of the girls are sold into sexual slavery. and this same thing happens in our universities now with oppression or sexual abuse of girls and also in our military, i think -- last year, 16,000 cases of sexual abuse took place in the military. and very seldom is a person prosecuted or punished for rape, even, in the military or university system. so, we have a long way to go, not only in this country, but around the world. >> well, thank you for your leadership.
vice president mondale, you were very much a partner in this effort to promote human rights. in meeting with the south african leadership on apartheid, in trying to save the vietnamese boat people who were dying at sea. you want to talk about any of those issues or others? >> these were -- these were all issues that you were directly involved in. we talked about them. and i would pick up various of them and particularly required travel and the rest, organization and try to add my help to that. both people -- boat people, horrible scandal. particularly in southeastern asia, they had, we thought, clear evidence that the government of the south vietnam
was pushing, particularly citizens of chinese extraction, out to sea, sometimes charging them for the honor of being kicked out. they would often get into boats that were unseaworthy. thousands lost their lives at sea. the -- and the u.n. was saying this was just poverty, that it wasn't any of that. and so we decided we needed to make an issue out of this. we -- the navy didn't want to pick up, remember, we talked about that. the navy was hanging back again, as it always does, and we -- so, the navy agreed to pick up people, saved a lot of lives and we set up u.n. conference in
geneva on the boat people and we were able to get a strong resolution there and we set up an international system. we took most of them, but some 20 or 30 nations also participated in a meaningful way and i think the whole world felt better about it and i think the united states looked pretty good at that time. and i'd like to see us get involved now a little more fully. >> after the vietnam war, the refugees from vietnam and cambodia were being persecuted, even assassinated if they were told to have been loyal to us during the war, so, we began to receive these people after they were carefully screened and just a lesson for europe, we were taking about 12,000 a month and
we took them and the vietnamese and cambodians have made very wonderful citizens for the united states. >> absolutely. president carter, one of the most difficult and i think frustrating experiences in your tenure was when the iranians seized the hostages from the american embassy in tehran and even though they weren't released until you left office, the release was the work of your administration. now president obama has secured an agreement with iran to prevent the development of a nuclear weapon for at least a decade. how do you view that agreement in terms of what it means for peace in the middle east and what it might mean for the future of iran itself internally? >> well, what many people don't even realize, unless they think about it a few minutes, was when
the shah was overthrown and the ayatollah established a new government, immediately, we established relationships with the new gove, with the revolutionary government and that was a government to whom i credited the hostages that were taken. so, i believe then and now that we should deal with the countries with whom we disagree and not just build a barrier between us that exacerbates the situation over years. so, i've been long awaiting the time where the united states would have, at least talks with, iran. and i think that what john kerry did, i met with him to discuss this this afternoon among other things, and what president obama did is the right thing. and i hope and pray that the peace agreement that we worked out with iran about nuclear weapons will prevail and they will honor their commitments. so, i think it's a wonderful thing and i hope the whole country will get behind it and support it and that the iranians will comply.
>> do you want to add anything to that, mr. vice president? >> no, i agree with that. i think that it looks to me like the president is gaining a majority support in the united states and the momentum is flowing to him, because he's providing excellent and needed leadership. >> mr. president, you were known to a lot of us in the white house for taking on a lot of tough issues. no tough issue was safe if it came near your desk. and your achievements have not always been fully recognized. but you brought peace to the middle east at camp david, you -- yes, indeed. you put the country on the path
towards energy independence. you brought inflation under control and it has remained under control for 30-plus years. >> tell paul volker that. >> you appointed paul volker, i remember that very well. and then came panama, which was one of the toughest issues any president -- five of your predecessors had failed to solve that problem of the panama canal. but you took it on and by all accounts, the canal today is a huge success. in terms of security, economically, in every possible way. do you have any reflections on that and how tough it was? >> it was the most difficult issue i ever faced in my life, even more difficult than being elected president. >> wow. >> and i think it was the most courageous decision ever been made by the u.s. congress in history.
for instance, there were 20 senators who voted for the canal treaties in 1978 who were up for re-election that year. only seven of them came back following january, 7 out of 20. and the retention rate was almost as great in 1980, including a president who was not re-elected. and i think this has been one of the best examples on the sincerity and the confidence of the united states in supporting human rights of a tangible nature that i can remember, because to give away the canal to use, while reagan's expression, was a crime almost against the united states, but in my opinion, it was the right thing to do. you may remember that gerald ford, as a republican nominee in 1976, and a lot of the issue was on reagan's condemnation of any move toward panama canal
treaties. but i had bipartisan support and we laboriously dealt with the undecided senators, 11 of them, and finally got enough to get the thing passed. so, it was good. it's still considered to be an unpopular deal. when the year 2000 came and time for us to turn over the canal to the panamanians, the president decided not to go down there and the vice president decided not to go down there and the secretary of state decided not to go down there. for the first time, they asked me to go down there. so -- >> sounds like a job for a vice president to me. >> the vice president didn't want to go. so -- and then a little bit later, when they decided to expand the canal by doubling its capacity, there was a big ceremony down there, once again, the incumbent vice president asked me to go and represent the
united states. i've been honored twice since i left the office -- >> congratulations. >> thank you. >> mr. president, i told a story today in an earlier conference about how we were trying to get those hard-line senators who had campaigned against the treaty and all and about senator hiakawa who ran against the grounds, it's ours, we stole it fair and square and he told me, you know, he said, maybe i could support the treaty, but he said, the president is not very well advised. he doesn't have good advice and maybe if he would take my advice i would vote for it. so i ran for the phone and called you and we got him on the phone right away and we went over the information and he said, yes, i think i can vote for it. shouldn't we meet about --
biweekly or something. you said, let's not do that. we'll probably need to meet more often. and i think -- it was -- >> any one of them could have been the deciding vote. >> but you spent a lot of time up there, working on the ratification and as you had put it, that was grinding hard rock, wasn't it? >> it was. and your point of the number of senators who were going to lose next election, many of whom knew that. i remember tom mcintyre of new hampshire said, yes, i'll vote for it. he said, this is right, but he said, don't expect me back this the next section. and i heard several others that told me that. it was not popular. it was -- it was a strange issue for me. usually it's a senator wanting
to do something that's safe and not right. and in this case, they knew to vote against it was wrong and so even though it affected their own future, they voted right. and it was an inspiring time to be up there. >> it was. well, president carter, you, rosa land your team at the carter center have done an extraordinary job for 35 years -- exactly. you set the gold standard for former presidents. there's no question about that. and i'd be grateful, i know the audience would, if they could hear you talk a little bit about the kinds of issues the center's doing, what your hopes and aspirations are for it. what's the carter center all
about? >> well, primary -- three things. one is peace. another one is democracy and freedom. and the third one is the alleviation of suffering. the carter center is free to go and meet with leaders around the world with whom the united states won't relate. kind of outcast people, for instance, in khartoum, where the president's been indicted by the icc. in nepal, where they won the vote in 2008 and they were condemned ahead of time as terrorists. and north korea, i've been there several times to work out deals with the government when i could. and we've met with both fatah and hamas. quite often, the outcast in international consideration who might be a pariah is quite often the one who is causing an unnecessary war or who is
causing a problem with human rights. so, we go right to them and try to change their policy. i never do go into a troubled area without getting ahead of time permission from the white house. sometimes reluctant permission. but i always get permission. i always make a report to the white house and the state department. anyway, that's one thing. the second thing, we started the policy of monitoring elections, because we found out in trying to negotiate peace between two groups, we say, have an honest election and i'm sure the people of your country will vote to have the right people. so we began to monitor elections. and so we just finished -- we just finished our 100th troubled election in guyana and we're now working on myanmar. about two-thirds of our total
budget each year is devoted to what the world health organization calls neglected tropical diseases. and we'll treat this year about 71 million people so they won't go blind or die from a disease that is no longer known in the developed world. so health care is our primary way to spend money and to use our people. we started out with 20 countries that had guinea worm and 26,300 villages and 3.6 million cases and at this moment, we have 15 cases in the world, and so -- >> wow. isn't that extraordinary? >> so, that's what we're -- but there we go into a country and work side-by-side with the people in little villages and it gives us an insight into
political affairs in that country and that's what with share with our leaders in world. >> right. well, it's extraordinary work. and one of the things, in addition to that that i so admire, your grandson jason is -- >> going to be. >> didn't want to rush it. he's going to be the chairman. but you're planning for this work to go on in perpetuity. >> that's right. we have a legal partnership with emory university. we appoint half of the board members, they appoint hard. so, we have a great institution backing us up. we have about 30 leaders in latin america who have been either the president or the prime minister and they work in partnership with us. >> right. >> and so -- we have a record of holding good elections and we have an adequate endowment to tide us over when rosalynn and i are not there to raise money. we have to raise a lot of money. >> that's great. >> you and i were chatting
earlier before we started and you're going to hold the annual meeting at the carter center weekend in annapolis next year and you said i could invite everybody here to attend, right? you and the vice president will be there. it's going to be a great event. we were going to have some questions but we don't have any microphones, so -- that's just a little issue there. so i think what we should probably do is to wrap this up, but mr. president, i would like to ask you, invite you to say any final words about the vice president or about anything you would like at this point. >> well, i think what fritz and i did together was historic. it's changed the basic structure of the executive branch of government to bring the vice president in as a full partner with the president. that had never been done before. and i think that the reason it was successful is that every
expectation i had for that partnership was never betrayed by fritz mondale. he was a perfect partner, i don't think we've ever had an argument in four years, which is a better relationship than the one between me and my wife. >> thank you. mr. vice president, this is your day and you get the last word. >> wow. we're just so thrilled to have the president with us. i know this was a great evening for all of us, you can feel it, the accomplishments of the administration, carter/mondale administration. it's really an inspiration. we're thrilled that you're here. i'm glad to be part of it. we love you. >> thank you very much. >> thank you.
weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span 3. tonight, we take a look back to when tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protesters, young people and military veterans alike, converged on washington, d.c. in the spring of 1971. more than 7,000 of them were arrested in a single day. american history tv and c-span's washington journal look back 50
years at the forces that collided on the capital streets. our guest is investigative journalist lawrence roberts, author of "may day 1971: a white house at war. a revolt in the streets and the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest." watch tonight, beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern and watch american history tv every weekend on c-span 3.
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