Mondale's 'experience'

Thomas Sowell

11/5/2002 12:00:00 AM - Thomas Sowell

Former Vice President Walter Mondale made much of his "experience" during his televised debate with his rival for the Senate seat of the late Paul Wellstone, Republican Norm Coleman. The real question, however, is not just what quantity of experience each candidate has had but -- far more important -- what quality.

Surely Mr. Mondale would not care to be judged by the actual performance of the Carter-Mondale administration, when inflation hit double digits and interest rates went above 20 percent, while motorists waited in gasoline lines. Nor was their foreign policy any great success.

Remember the American hostages who were held for more than a year in Iran, with the Carter-Mondale administration wringing its hands? Remember that administration giving away the canal that Americans had built in Panama -- a canal that is now in the hands of the Chinese government, which controls one of the vital waterways of the Western Hemisphere? What if our warships need to get through that canal during some emergency and the Communists back in Beijing don't want them to get through?

These things were not just bad luck that happened on the watch of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. They were the logical consequences of the whole liberal mindset, at home and abroad. Take the gasoline lines of the Carter-Mondale years -- please.

Although, during the debate with Norm Coleman, Mondale blamed the gasoline lines on problems in the Middle East, the cold fact is that, during the gasoline crisis of 1979, the amount of gasoline sold was only 3.5 percent less than in the record-breaking year of gasoline sales a year earlier.

A minor decline in the amount of gasoline turned into a major crisis at the pump because of that old liberal nostrum, price control. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, one of the first things he did was get rid of price controls on oil. Not only did the gasoline lines disappear, oil production increased and prices at the pump fell, despite a liberal chorus of wailing that the price would go up without price controls.

There is not the slightest evidence that liberals in general, or Walter Mondale in particular, have learned anything about the economics of price controls in the decades since then. Just last year, liberal Democrats were clamoring for price caps on electricity in California, when it was precisely price caps that caused power shortages and blackouts.

Price controls have been causing shortages for centuries, in countries around the world. How surprising is it that price controls caused electricity shortages in California?

They say that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Those who vote for Walter Mondale may have to repeat the past with one of the very relics of that past.

Big spending, big taxing, welfare-state liberalism, neglecting national defense, and appointing judges chosen for their willingness to impose the liberal agenda from the bench, are the kinds of things that still define Walter Mondale.

Throw in class warfare rhetoric and scare tactics about Social Security and you have the perfect back-to-the-future candidate. He has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

Mondale's position on Social Security is classic liberal distrust of people and faith in government. Allowing individuals to put part of their Social Security contributions into private pension plans would enable them to get higher rates of return, pass on their assets to their heirs, and -- above all -- take that much of their money out of the hands of big-spending politicians.

Mondale's response to this was that the stock market is going down. Put aside the fact that the stock market has started going up again, as the economy as a whole has started back up again. Even if someone who had invested pension money over the past 20 or 30 years in mutual funds had retired when the market was down, he could still get more than Social Security pays.

Several years of successful experience, such as Norm Coleman has had as mayor of St. Paul, trumps decades of experience in getting things wrong, as Walter Mondale has done in Washington.