Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 27, 2011

GERALDINE FERRARO, TRAILBLAZER, DIES AT AGE 75.... The 1984 presidential election was the first I followed in any detail. I was 11, just old enough to notice how interesting this whole "politics" thing really was.

One of the things that made the year unique, of course, was the historic nature of the Democratic ticket. Like plenty of kids, I can recall looking in books and noticing that every major-party ticket in American history featured candidates with the same qualities: they were all white men. Walter Mondale, to his credit, was committed to changing that.

On the short list was an up-and-coming San Francisco mayor by the name of Dianne Feinstein, but Mondale ultimately went with New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, who died yesterday at the age of 75.

Dave Weigel flagged the statement released by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), which did a nice job capturing the role for which Ferraro will always be remembered.

I'll never forget when Walter Mondale chose Gerry for his running mate in at the Democratic National Convention in 1984. She became our first woman Vice Presidential candidate. It sent shock waves through the country. The entire nation was proud that we had broken this barrier. It changed the way we thought of ourselves. Women began looking at themselves in a new way. They would say -- she's not that much older than me. She's not that different than me. She definitely has worked hard. But she did it. Maybe I can do it too.

I was so proud of her. So proud of the Democrats. And so honored to second her nomination at the Democratic Convention that August. It was electric. The male delegates had given their tickets to their female alternates so they could witness this grand moment in history. Ten thousand people packed the auditorium, including lots of children. So many people there never thought they'd live to see the day we'd have a woman candidate for vice president.

After the campaign -- I told her, "Gerry -- it's kind of like breaking the sound barrier for the first time. You know, those guys in those planes starting to get to Mach 1 and then they got to Mach 2, or whatever it is they do to break the barrier. We got shaken up and pushed and pulled in a lot of directions just like they did. We didn't do it, but it's only the first time out."

Geraldine Ferraro cracked the marble ceiling. She paved the way for women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Someday, a woman will become President of the United States -- and Geraldine Ferraro paved the way. But she also paved the way for women in their day-to-day lives.

In the more than quarter-century since the 1984 campaign, further progress on gender equality in the political world has been, at best, mixed. The number of women in Congress has grown considerably since the mid-80s, though last year, it shrank, and Capitol Hill is still dominated by men. We've seen women rise to prominence in national media -- Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Rachel Maddow, Christiane Amanpour. Leslie Stahl -- but most of the voices that dominate the discourse are also still men. The number of women on the U.S. Supreme Court has reached record highs, but the total has still only gone from one of nine to three of nine. We finally had a woman as Speaker of the House, but she only had two terms, and was ruthlessly demonized by the far-right.

And in national electoral politics, there's only been one other woman to make a major-party ticket, and her nomination was little more than a campaign stunt gone horribly awry.

Ferraro blazed an important trail for women at the national level, but the point is that trail remains too narrow and traveled by too few. As Time noted yesterday, Ferraro's passing "is a moment to consider how much work remains for the cause of gender equality that she symbolized."

President Obama also issued a statement yesterday, saying, "Michelle and I were saddened to learn about the passing of Geraldine Ferraro. Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life. Whether it was as a public school teacher, assistant district attorney, Member of Congress, or candidate for Vice President, Geraldine fought to uphold America's founding ideals of equality, justice, and opportunity for all. And as our Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, she stood up for those ideals around the world. Sasha and Malia will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Thatcher, Meir, Ghandi, Merkel-and South America, Australia, as well.

Watching some of the day long "Conservative" group hug on C-SPAN yesterday, I was reminded by just how solidly much of America is still firmly entrenched in the 19th Century.

Posted by: DAY on March 27, 2011 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

And in national electoral politics, there's only been one other woman to make a major-party ticket, and her nomination was little more than a campaign stunt gone horribly awry.

Was Ferraro's select as v.p. candidate that much different in reason or results?

In my mind, regardless of what she did earlier, Ferraro will be remembered for her racist attacks on Obama in 2008.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 27, 2011 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

I worked on the McGovern campaign in 1972. Back then it was a novelty to have a woman running the local campaign office. Some folks still expected her make the coffee. We have indeed come a long way.

Of course, Gerry also blazed the trail for Sarah, Michele, Ann Coulter, and the like, but that's the price of progress.

Posted by: Eeyore on March 27, 2011 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Pretty gracious statement by Obama, considering Ferraro's nasty remarks about him.
And being a vice presidential candidate is only an achievement in the sense that winning a lottery is an achievement. Good for Mondale for picking her, I guess, but they ran a pretty crappy campaign and got trounced.
So best wishes to her friends and family, but her legacy can be written on a Trivial Pursuits card.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on March 27, 2011 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

It is amazing that people on this board only remember the worst about Ferraro. She was a trailblazer. What she said in 2008 about Obama was crude and ugly, but it was said in the heat of a crude and ugly battle between Obama and HRC. Clinton and Obama seem to have made up. So should we. The comments are not why she should be remembered.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 27, 2011 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

@Ron Byers -- recall the punchline: "You fuck one sheep."

I just don't think being a vice presidential candidate is a big deal. If it were so, Sarah Palin would be more than just a gibbering ass.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on March 27, 2011 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Being chosen by the male establishment in 1984 to run as VP, granted, that is not the same as HRC running a full blown campaign that almost got her nominated and elected. But first steps are first steps, and the responsibility and the burden of taking the first such step is enormous. GFerraro was a hardworking pol who got elevated beyond her ambitions and maybe her abilities, but she didnt make those who chose her cringe.

In related news, has anyone noticed that deep-fried Republican base likes not one, but two female pres candidates better than the men? Their status as nutcases aside, four years ago this would have been inconceivable.

Posted by: troglodyte on March 27, 2011 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

"still firmly entrenched in the 19th Century"

DAY makes an excellent point. Female heads of state are no big deal throughout the rest of the world. More innovative ways of electing more representative representatives have been in use for the last century, world-wide, than our corrupt and bizarre fixed-geographic-district-from-which-one-man is elected system. America stands nearly alone in compulsively embracing its 18th century constitutional principles, which were innovative and even world-changing at the time, but which now look dated and dysfunctional in many ways.

We even cling to the old "imperial" units, which even the Imperial United Kingdom as chucked off. Inches? Feet? Yards? Rods? Acres? Come on!

America is troubled by a stunning refusal to look forward anymore. The reactionary right wing controls the media; anyone who understands the technical function of something is laughingly dismissed as a "wonk", "nerd", or "geek." I could rant on and on about global current events, history from the last 50 years, etc, but I think you all get the point.

Who can start the ball rolling on changing America's relentless path back to feudalism?

Posted by: zandru on March 27, 2011 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think that there are plenty of women on the Supreme Court. I have no concern there. What I am concerned about is the lack of protestants. There are 7 Catholics on the court. 7. That is a huge number. Catholics are possibly 20% of the US. Why do they deserve 7 justices - 78%?

We need a balance on the court. We should ensure that when a justice retires, a non-Catholic is appointed. Catholics have a strong duty to make decisions a specific way, one that I do not agree with.

Posted by: POed Lib on March 27, 2011 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and then there's this:

"You know, those guys in those planes starting to get to Mach 1 and then they got to Mach 2, or whatever it is they do to break the barrier. "

The sound "barrier" is Mach 1. Period.

Posted by: zandru on March 27, 2011 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Good point, zandru. Since its earliest days, I don't know that America has ever really been forward-looking, except in the rather juvenile, self-serving manner of the 1950s and 1960s -- "we're going to the Moon, but keep those niggers away from our drinking fountains."

Posted by: hells littlest angel on March 27, 2011 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

For me, the legacy of Geraldine Ferraro is another tough on crime pol whose coke-dealing son got off light, a husband who was a crook, an incompetent pol who lost 49 states in 1984, disappeared for a long while and then re-emerged, offering up some of the ugliest and most racist rhetoric in the 2008 campaign. It's one thing to start off racist and spend your life atoning, as Robert Byrd did, but Ferraro for me will be just another bitter white crank who still thinks it is 1960 and that it is ok to say things like:

["If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."]

She ended her life moving in the wrong direction, offering up whatever racist and sexist bilge she could find to sink Obama, and she did it for a profit, vomiting up her bile as a paid commenter on Fox. She was Harriet Christian with name recognition and a (D) after her name, stirring up racial resentment in a shrinking white middle class that, amusingly enough, had already resoundingly rejected her several decades ago and never much cared for her outside of a NY borough. Feminism deserved better.

Posted by: Shade Tail on March 27, 2011 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

@POed Lib:
Presumably Jewish women are over-represented on SCOTUS? "Dawn take you...and be stone to you!" Go back under your bridge.

Posted by: Werewolf on March 27, 2011 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

I was in the car yesterday when I heard the news. This is how CBS radio news started the story: "Sarah Palin issued a statement expressing her sympathy over the death of former VP nominee Geraldine Ferraro."

I wanted to pull over and vomit.

Posted by: Andy on March 27, 2011 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Well put, Shade Tail... by John Cole. You really ought to give attribution where it's due.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on March 27, 2011 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

What I am concerned about is the lack of protestants. There are 7 Catholics on the court. 7. That is a huge number. Catholics are possibly 20% of the US. Why do they deserve 7 justices - 78%?

My fondest wish is that they all be atheists, but that's just the unbeliever in me. It'd be nice if us free-thinkers could have at least one voice on the high court.

The sound "barrier" is Mach 1. Period.

You're actually expecting someone who doesn't work in aviation and who probably took her last science class in high school to accurately recall the speed of sound in a spontaneous conversation? How annoyingly pedantic of you. Sorry, but I'll give the lady a break.

Posted by: Death Panel Truck on March 27, 2011 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Alas, it's a bit of an exaggeration to say that the whole country was excited by Ferraro's selection in '84. For feminists, it was a breath of fresh air to see a woman nominated for national office after four years of hearing the word "feminist" used as an epithet or a punch-line, and being ridiculed and caricatured by the Reagan administration. But a great many Americans responded with venomously personal and misogynistic attacks on Ferraro. One columnist for the Boston Globe (don't remember who, but they featured several very anti-feminist conservative columnists at the time) complained about having to look at the "ugly" feminists who cheered for Ferraro's selection.

As anyone remembers who watched the vice-presidential debates that year, George H.W. Bush treated her with contempt and condescension, then boasted the next day that "I kicked a little @ss last night." His defenders insisted that the figure of speech was not sexist, since it was the same phrase that he might have used about a male opponent. But what annoyed me about the remark is that he gave himself credit for winning a debate in which he actually made of himself what he claimed to have kicked. And worse, a lot of pundits agreed that he had in fact won the debate.

What Ferraro's candidacy proved to me was how far American women still had to go before they could be taken seriously. And I salute Ferraro for going first and taking the abuse.

Posted by: T-Rex on March 27, 2011 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Ferraro and Palin had all too much in common, as much as it will pain many to recognize that point. Mondale came to regret his choice of Ferraro. Like Palin, Ferraro was glib enough that she felt she did not need to study the issues. Like Palin, she withheld key personal information from the man who nominated her. Like Palin, she cried sexism whenever she was criticized for anything. Like Palin, she felt she should have been at the top of the ticket, even though, as noted, both were plucked from relative obscurity for reasons that had little to do with their qualifications to assume the presidency, if necessary. Steven Gillon's excellent 1992 biography of Mondale, The Democrats' Dilema, captures the roller coaster that was Gerry Ferraro quite well. Ferraro is a historic figure, but her candidacy had no long-term effect. Hillary Clinton's campaign is a far more important benchmark of the progress (agonizingly slow as it is) that women are making in American politics.

Posted by: Scott Farris on March 27, 2011 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK



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