I woke up Sunday morning to an awful grating sound. It was the voice of Hillary Clinton talking to David Gregory about Geraldine Ferraro’s death on Meet the Press.
Seriously, if I had my own personal way-back machine I’d have definitely found a way to re-start the morning with a more nutritious Sunday morning talk show for breakfast. We get it: sadly, Geraldine Ferraro died on Saturday March 26th – and the nation and her fans are due their chance to mourn. But please, for the love of God, let’s not pretend Ferraro was anything other than a lucky token who made good with her 15 minutes of political fame.
At the risk of sounding insensitive, Ferraro falls really far down my list of groundbreaking political women – of any color – to make a difference in this country in the last 40 years. Shirley Chisolm, Hillary Clinton, Liddy Dole, even Sarah Palin (In her own odd way) count as women who hit national presidential stage to make a career for themselves influencing their parties or the nation’s political fortunes.
Geraldine Ferraro? Not so much. Ferraro’s career plays out like a 1980’s black history month project: something big happened at the beginning, nothing happened for a long time then suddenly things got relevant again.
Ferraro like many of the privileged second wave white feminists from her era, came from a privileged family. Her Italian immigrant father owned two restaurants and her mother was a seamstress. With her mother’s support, the family paid for college and law-school. Ferraro is famous for saying that her uncle chastised the family for paying for her education by claiming: “Why bother? She’s pretty. She’s a girl. She’ll get married.” But, it doesn’t negate the fact that her family had the cash to send her to college, while many women from the same New York neighborhood had no choice but to marry for security.
Ferraro was on a great career path as a District Attorney for Queens New York (a job she got after being hired by her cousin) when she caught the political bug and ran for Congress. Within six years, she was accepting the nomination to become Walter Mondale’s 1984 Vice Presidential running mate in his quest to experience the most graphic presidential beat-down in American history where Ronald Reagan stomped the Mondale-Ferraro ticket so bad that you could see the serial numbers on their foreheads. To add insult to injury, most political scientists show her presence on the ticket only shifted .8 percent of the women’s vote to the Democratic side.
By all accounts Gerry was part of the most epic failure in Democratic Party history.
So why the love?
It certainly can’t come from her ‘wandering’ years from 1984 to 2008.
During this time she twice failed to win the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in New York. She took cushy jobs as a ‘U.N. Ambassador’ thanks to patronage from her mentee and lifelong BFF Hillary Clinton during the Clinton administration. She also ran a few businesses. Geraldine Ferarro did nothing special politically for almost 20 years until she opened her mouth during the 2008 presidential election in her best re-enactment of that racist-old-aunt-your-white-friends-are-always-complaining-about.
First, during an interview with the California Breeze newspaper and then in other outlets, Ferraro complained that then candidate Barack Obama was getting a leg up on Hillary because he was black. This was coming from a member of Hillary’s 2008 finance committee – another cushy patronage job. She went so far to say: “He was very lucky to be who he was.” Ferraro was convinced it was the public’s fascination with his skin color, as opposed to saying, better fundraising or better strategy that was the reason he was beating Hillary from Wisconsin to Washington in the primaries.
For a whole generation of Americans this was their introduction to the angry, surly Geraldine Ferraro. For black Americans who remembered her from 1984, it was a reminder of the woman who got the nomination and made no mention of Shirley Chisolm as an inspiration or role model – even though the sister ran for president 10 years before her.
If there was any doubt regarding her true feelings towards progressive politics, she answered them dancing for Rupert Murdoch’s pocket change as a FOX-a-Crat during the final months of Campaign 2008. The gig: rail against Obama and gin up race/class/gender resentments in the Democratic Party.
It’s one thing to speak ill of the dead. It’s entirely another to get so caught up in ‘80s nostalgia that you forget what someone has not accomplished in their entire life. Geraldine Ferraro was a one hit wonder and gender token whose only real concern for women was focused on successful white females. In that sense, she certainly didn’t do anything wrong in her storied life, but she certainly didn’t do anything special either.
This column is the opinion of the author and does not reflect the views of theloop21.