Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Prosecutor and the Weather Girl

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Geraldine Ferraro died yesterday after a twelve-year struggle with cancer.

The feisty congresswoman from New York City kicked down a lot of gender-specific doors in her time and shattered a mighty thick glass ceiling.  The daughter of Italian immigrants, Ms. Ferraro ignored the advice of one of her uncles who proclaimed that she was pretty and should just get married.  Instead she put herself through college, and then took an "acceptable" job for a woman and became an elementary school teacher.

Unhappy with the drudgery and low pay of teaching, Ms. Ferraro went to law school at night while keeping up with her day job.  She was cautioned when she began law school that she would be taking a position that should be going to a man.  She and one other woman graduated two years later in a class that otherwise was all men.  Ms. Ferraro practiced law for awhile and then became a prosecutor.  Eventually she headed up a Special Victims Unit (yes, like the one on Law and Order) that specialized in family violence.

Geraldine Ferraro, a politically active Democrat, ran for Congress in 1978 from her district in Queens, an ethnically diverse community that was the fictional home to televisions All in the Family.  And while Archie Bunker probably would not have voted for her, the rest of his family would have had no issue casting their ballots for the liberal Ms. Ferraro who described herself as a "small c" conservative and a tough-as-nails prosecutor.  She won that election and went on to serve six years in Congress.

And though Geraldine Ferraro lived a life of constant acclaim and accomplishment in a world that had traditionally been dominated by men, her greatest claim to fame came in 1984 when the Democratic National Convention nominated her as Walter Mondale's running mate - thus making her the first woman to ever be placed on a national ticket.  Although the Mondale-Ferraro ticket went on to lose to the incumbents, Reagan and Bush, Geraldine Ferraro handled herself remarkably well.  She had one national debate with Vice-President George H.W. Bush, and during that exchange the elder Bush tried to chide her over her lack of foreign policy experience.  Ms. Ferraro took issue with his tone and excoriated the Texas blue-blood with this classic line:  "Let me just say first of all, that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy."

After losing that election, Ms. Ferraro soon retired from the House and made two unsuccessful attempts to win election to the Senate from New York.  Her last public efforts were in Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Presidency.  During that time she reportedly became enraged when she learned that one of her children had voted for Barack Obama and against Hillary in a primary election.  It left her with the feeling that the ideal of gender equality  in politics had been subsumed by the different demands of a new generation.

That was in 2008.

Interestingly, 2008 was the year that the Republican Party finally put a female on their national ticket - two-and-a-half decades after Ferraro had smashed that glass ceiling for Democrats.  But instead of choosing a candidate with a wide range of experience in teaching, law, and politics - the Republicans chose a weather girl with four years of city council experience and a little over a year as a governor of one of the least populous states in the nation.  

Even though the contrast between Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin could not have been more stark, Ferraro took the nomination of Palin as a sign that society was moving forward.  In speaking of the Palin candidacy, Ferraro had this to say, "Every time a woman runs, women win."   Surely those are words that Ms. Palin would never "refudiate."

Moments ago President Obama tweeted the following:  "Saddened to learn about the passing of Geraldine Ferraro. She will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers."

Geraldine Ferraro did blaze trails and break down barriers, and because of the efforts of her and other formidable women's advocates of the twentieth century, our daughters and granddaughters are entering a more open and accepting world - a world in which they don't have to rely on being elementary school teachers, weather girls, or the wives of successful working men in order to get ahead.

Rest in peace, Geraldine.  You've earned the rest and the peace!

1 comment:

Bk in MO said...

I had a the great pleasure of meeting her and sharing several great moments with her at the 1988 Women and the Constitution gathering in Atlanta that year, along with many other political greats, such as Coretta Scott King, Bella Abzug, etc. She was a genuinely nice lady. And it is sad to me how many of the people I met that week in Atlanta are now gone. Who, I wonder, will now take up the banner? Sadly, it seems that most women in politics are missing the spark that Ferraro and others had. Instead we get the Palins.