Bad Habits Catch Up with Geraldine Ferraro

If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman, 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.” — 1984 Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro.”

It would be gallant to remember Democrat Geraldine Ferraro as the first woman to have a chance to become vice-president, but that would represent noble hyperbole. She was the running mate of former Vice-President Walter Mondale as he tried to prevent President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George H. W. Bush from election to a second term in 1984.

Mondale and Ferraro never really had a chance. The memory of the failed presidency of Jimmy Carter was too fresh in everyone’s mind, and the conviction that because of Reagan it was “morning America” again for the Democrats to have any realistic prospect for victory in that election cycle. The Mondale-Ferraro ticket was crushed in just about everyone way possible. The pair lost the popular vote 58.8% to 40.6% and the Electoral College by an astounding 525-13. Mondale and Ferraro only carried Mondale’s home state of Minnesota. Even there, Mondale squeaked by 49.7% to 49.5% in the popular vote. A difference of 0.2% in the popular vote in Minnesota kept Reagan and Bush from earning 100% of the Electoral College vote.

Indeed, the challenge of facing so formidable a candidate as Reagan was one of the reasons that a Congress personĀ  from New York was pulled from obscurity and put on the ticket. By boldly selecting Ferraro, Mondale hoped to secure a greater fraction of the female vote. Such an expectation was a little patronizing, but desperation was in order. In retrospect, it is hard to determine whether Ferraro helped or hurt Mondale’s prospects. Mondale was destined to loose with whatever vice-presidential candidate ran with him. Ferraro ran for office credibly despite the fact that her financesĀ  where a source of controversy.

Now in public campaign speech, it is acceptable to say that a particular vice-presidential candidate was chosen to geographically or ideologically balance a ticket. However, it is not good form to say out loud that a candidate was picked because of gender or race. In 1984, it would have be declasse to have publicly argued that Ferraro was only selected because she was a woman. The history of gender and race discrimination make such observations uncomfortable. Though it might have been impolite to observe that she was selected for her gender two decades ago, she concedes that herself now.

Unfortunately, the Democrat Party has fallen into the habit of worrying about group rather than individual representation. This practice of identity politics accustoms people to looking at race or gender first when evaluating an individual. Republicans, in order to fight this identity politics, have been trained to never, never make racial or gender observations. Doing so brings the entire weight of the mainstream media down on the Republican. To make a racial observation for a Republican plays into the media’s perception of Republicans as harboring latent racist and misogynistic dispositions.

Geraldine Ferraro is not even close to being racist. However, when she suggested that Senator Barrack Obama is leading in the Democratic primary contest because he is black, the cauldron of identity politics stirred up in her party forced her to step down from the Hillary Clinton campaign. It is a little ironic that a political party that embraces affirmative action, where race and gender are specifically used in the selection process for school admissions or hiring, are so sensitive to Ferraro’s observation that race played a role in Obama’s recent electoral success.

Those who rise to the most prominent and conspicuous positions, like Senators Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton, do so on the basis of a complex combination of talent, work, education, family, cultural heritage, and no small measure of good fortune. Race and gender further influence the rise of different individuals. Given the history of racial and gender discrimination, it is better that the role of such factors remain publicly unexamined by politicians.

It is indeed a welcome outcome that a black man and a female can be serious contenders for the presidency, however, ugly identity politics may ultimately decide who the Democratic nominee is. Is it unbecoming to confess to a small feeling of schadenfreude at the discomfort as a consequence of identity politics of those who have exploited it so mercilessly in the past?

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