Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Day Mondale Made History

"You don't have to have fought in a war to love peace."

Geraldine Ferraro

In 1984, I made up my mind early to support Walter Mondale for president.

His announcement 30 years ago today of his selection of Geraldine Ferraro to be the first female vice presidential nominee of a major political party did not influence my decision.

Nor, I suppose, did it influence most of my friends and co–workers, all of whom seemed to have decided how to vote fairly early, too.

I know it didn't affect my mother. She was an admirer of Mondale before he was chosen to be Jimmy Carter's running mate.

Mom and I never spoke about Mondale's choice so I don't know if she would have selected someone else if it had been up to her. I might have picked someone else. There were times, I guess, when I questioned the wisdom of Mondale's choice — not because of Ferraro's gender but because of her rather thin political resume.

So, if it had been up to me, I probably would have picked someone with more extensive political experience — and perhaps some experience running in a statewide campaign. As a representative, Ferraro's campaigns had been districtwide.

Of course, if the point is to make history with a nomination, one is limited to the options that are available at the time. In 1984, Mondale didn't have the luxury of an abundance of choices. Democrats had no women in the U.S. Senate and only one serving as governor of a state. He probably could have found a woman in the House who had spent more time there than Ferraro, but she might not have shared so many of his views.

Ironically, that would change within the next few years. That may have been — at least in part — an outcome of Ferraro's groundbreaking candidacy. The '80s was a decade of great strides for women. In addition to Ferraro's nomination, Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman nominated to be a Supreme Court justice, and Sally Ride was America's first woman astronaut.

But, in the rush to make history, the Mondale campaign staff failed to adequately vet her and thus was subjected to a distracting investigation of Ferraro's family finances at a time when the Democratic ticket needed to be refining its message for the general election. It was embarrassing, too, because it revived stereotypes about New York Italian–Americans and organized crime.

Twenty–four years later, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin became the first woman nominated for the vice presidency by the Republican Party.

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