No, Walter Mondale didn't drift off into an old fella's nap during his hour-long exchange with Norm Coleman earlier today. His voice was shaky at times, and his hands perhaps too, but for all we know that just might have been nervousness. What stood out is that he's the same true blue lib he was when he ran against Ronald Reagan. Indeed, he seemed happiest to claim vindication as to his prediction in 1984 that the Reagan administration would raise taxes after the election the way he promised to if elected. Now that is news to anyone who remembers Reagan's tax increases coming in 1982, i.e., well before the '84 election. Could be that Mondale was confusing Reagan's tax reform of 1986 with a tax hike, as more than one wealthy Republican later came to think as well once all those loopholes disappeared. So on that score Mondale can be given the benefit of the doubt.
Rush Limbaugh has already noted how Norm Coleman shut Mondale up on the subject of abortion. The Minnesotan was almost abjectly apologetic when Coleman, who lost two young children, noted he didn't appreciate Mondale's calling him an "arbitrary right to lifer." Earlier Mondale had dismissively referred to the "right to life crowd," and a number of times insisted that a right to abortion was to be found in the Constitution -- the single most dubious argument that can be made in defense of Roe v. Wade. In this respect it can't be said that Mondale remains stuck in 1984 and earlier, when pro-choicers, for all their growing power, remained more guarded in their language. But it was a measure of how far we've fallen to hear Mondale also bleat, "I know that life should be sacred." If he knows it, then why isn't it? What's happened to him?
Ever since last week it appeared that Mondale might be losing it in another way: by claiming that once back in the Senate he'll immediately assume a leadership role. By most accounts at best he can expect to receive an honorary leadership title, but nothing substantive. But that's now what Mondale appears to think, and again in the debate he asserted he'll rise to a leadership post at his "first moment" back. Is this delusion, or a cheap ploy to win Minnesota votes?
Several times he alluded to his service as president of the Senate or to his "years of experience" or to adhering to certain views or policies "my entire life." In such instances he was doing Coleman's work, reinforcing how ancient and thus out of touch he might be. And he was the one who brought up Iraq and Afghanistan circa 1979-80. Coleman, in his patience, didn't bring up Carter-Mondale 24% interest rates until quite late in the hour. But again, there was little need for him to counter such Mondalisms as this one regarding terrorism: "I'm opposed to it and have helped fight it for years." Tell that to the Ayatollah.
Like the New York Times has taught today's liberals, always claim that Colin Powell is on your side. When Mondale repeated that tired line, Coleman again jumped in, as he did when Mondale claimed Coleman is somehow "sorry" Mondale has spent the last eight years serving on corporate boards. Au contraire, Coleman noted, he just didn't think the introduction of "class warfare" via attacks on "special interests" served any good purpose. Mondale naturally was not about to admit to being a hypocrite. But then he also couldn't respond to Coleman's question whether he'd be willing challenge the trial lawyers.
Strangely, Coleman probably spent as much time referring to the late Paul Wellstone as Mondale did. For someone who promises to carry on for the late senator, Mondale had precious little to say about him.
Most telling were the closing statements. Much as he did earlier, Coleman made the case for himself: where he stood, what he'd accomplished, and how willing he is to work for Minnesotans. He didn't attack his current opponent. Mondale, by contrast, couldn't say anything about himself without impugning Coleman's alleged values or beliefs. It was a classic case of optimist vs. pessimist. Not exactly the repeat of 1984 that Mondale needs at this stage.