Monday, March 28, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro

She was, in one sense, one of a group of terrible VP selections...although not, I think, as bad as Nixon, Agnew, Quayle, and Palin. She was selected out of nowhere, and the vetting missed important things that made her ride in 1984 a very bumpy one.

Not that it mattered, of course, as far as winning or losing in November that year. And, in my view at least, she handled the process well. Despite both her own rocky candidacy and the ticket doing badly, I don't recall anyone then or later ever pointing to Gerry Ferraro as a reason that women shouldn't, or even weren't, advancing nationally.

She never, unfortunately, found a way to build on it. Her Senate campaigns were as uninspired as Nixon's gubernatorial campaign (or Quayle's presidential run) were, and I found her TV appearances or op-ed columns mostly lightweight (at least until the 2008 Democratic primaries, about which the less said the better). My best guess is that she was just badly miscast as a national figure, but probably, as far as I know, would have been at least a solid and perhaps an excellent Member of the House. She certainly could have remained in her seat as long as she liked, and it's hardly impossible to imagine her as Speaker had the cards dropped right (not, to be sure, an original observation, there, but one that's important in understanding her career). Among other things, her career is a reminder that even the best of Congressional insiders (and few are the equal of Tip O'Neill, Ferraro's big supporter in 1984) have a history of utter cluelessness when it comes to presidential politics.

But then again, in 1984 there weren't all that many women available (or at least logical choices) to be the First Woman Vice Presidential Nominee.

All in all, I think that as much as it was in some ways a bad choice, in more important ways Walter Mondale made a good-enough choice.

She was, all in all, a great American, and she deserves to be remembered warmly.


  1. meh....I think she did set back the cause of woman in politics...if only because it was so over-hyped.

    That being said, neither HRC or Palin were much better. HRC (solid credentials as senator, but lets be honest it invoked a Peron like response in people) or Palin (looks hot) were also weak, but they weren't overhyped.

    Perhaps the fate of the "first" although I'd argue Obama was the first black to run for office (jackson being a bad joke).

    Going back to your question, the real problem with affirmative action isn't the goal -- it is you are taking the B team and calling it the A team. Kids who should go to UVA go to Harvard instead. Ferraro is a classic case in another context. David Patterson is another.

  2. charlie, are you saying that Hillary Clinton wasn't a credible candidate for President? Really?

  3. No, obviously both Palin and HRC were credible candidates for presidency and VP.

    I am saying HRC was weaker than acknowledged. She was, after all, Bill's wife. Does anyone think she would have won the senate race without that status.* In any case, a governor and a sitting senator are both stronger than a congresswoman.

    * OK, ex-wife would also win you. Ask Cristinia Fernandez how that is working.

  4. It's telling that you cite Nixon, Agnew, Quayle, and Palin as bad choices for VP. I think that speaks to the one common factor that almost always makes a poor VP selection: lack of experience. The aforementioned crew were poor choices, while LBJ, Bush, Gore, Cheney, and Biden are almost universally praised as solid choices that certainly didn't harm their tickets, and may have even helped.

    The first rule of selecting a VP should always be "do no harm", which is much easier to do if you're selecting an experienced, well-known candidate. The number one job of the VP is to take over when the President dies, as LBJ knew when he was selected in '60 (he reportedly noted to an aide that 18% of all Presidents had died in office, so that 1/5 shot was better than any other presidential prospects). With an unknown candidate, the voters may not be convinced that the VP is presidential material, especially if the issue is raised by the age or health of the nominee (like Ike, Bush in '88, and McCain).

  5. The key experience that matters (Edwards notwithstanding) is a presidential run -- that's the best form of vetting out there. It's not so much that the voters don't trust people they haven't heard of as that there's a fair chance that something will turn up once the national press focuses. Of course, Palin was already subject of an ethics inquiry, so it wouldn't have taken a lot for the McCain people to have figured that one out.

    Note that four of the five you cite had run for president -- as had Kemp, and Edwards played well in '04, at least.

  6. I think one thing that should be pointed out about Ferraro that I didn't know before reading her NYT obit is that she got her job as a prosecutor after her cousin, Nicholas Ferraro, was elected the Queens District Attorney. That certainly doesn't negate her accomplishments or status, but I also remember someone else describing her as the incarnation of the American Dream, and I think her start as an apparent nepotism hire cuts against that picture.

    You've looked at statistics on political nepotism, but if I recall correctly they only counted people whose relatives had been in Congress, so Ferraro wouldn't have counted. Should she?


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