Saturday, March 26, 2011
RIP Geraldine Ferraro
Those who are talented and brave enough to be first in any arena can expect to have their share of personal attacks, and Geraldine Ferraro was no exception.
While I was too young (7 most of the year) to fully appreciate the significance of her VP spot on the presidential ticket, I have been in awe of her my entire adult life. Thus I was sad to read of her death from blood cancer, which was the same kind of cancer that killed my uncle back in 1987.
I called on my dad, the first feminist I ever met, to sum up some thoughts about what it meant at the time to have Ferraro front and center in that election:
It was 1984 and while Orwell’s novel had not come to pass, having Ronald Reagan occupying the Oval Office seemed close enough. And he was running for re-election. Surely the Democrats could find someone to neutralize the Gipper’s charm, but no, they were prepared to nominate bland Walter Mondale, after Reagan had made peanut butter out of bland Jimmy Carter four years before.
Then something astonishing happened. Newly minted candidate Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro of New York to be his vice presidential running mate. And she was not bland! She was smart, articulate, humorous, and holy s—t, she was a woman!
Well, I just had to see her in person. I went to a small Sons of Italy Club here in Silicon Valley, California, where I also found out that Ms. Ferraro was Italian. And what a rally it was. Her stump speech was rip roaring hot and if Reagan had been anywhere within a thousand miles he wouldn’t be riding his horse in Santa Barbara for awhile. The crowd sang, danced, cheered, and Geraldine Ferraro seemed to love it all, do it all, and carried it off with effortless class. In one of the few events I ever attended that featured a woman as the center of attention, before or after, there were as many men as women there, and all of witnessing Ferraro’s triumph believed that America was on the verge of finally awakening to FemPower.
Alas, Ms. Ferraro and Mr. Mondale did not manage to beat the Reagan juggernaut in the fall of 1984, but Geraldine remained a forceful and highly watchable figure in American politics for a long time after.
Now she is gone, and I would guess, so are many of the people who saw her that day years ago in San Jose. She is gone but not forgotten, and with a bit of luck maybe she’s partying right now up in the Sainted Sons of Italy Club as we remember her here with fondness and respect.