I have some sympathy for former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, D-N.Y. Ferraro was part of the disastrous Mondale-Ferraro ticket in 1984, and while she has her place in history as the first woman to run on a major-party ticket, calling the 1984 campaign of Walter Mondale "running on a major-party ticket" is kind of stretching. Mondale, as you may recall, won a whopping 13 electoral votes -- and came within a whisker of losing his home state of Minnesota, which would have left him with just D.C.'s three.
This wasn't Ferraro's fault; Mondale was the wrong man in the wrong year in a party that was saying the wrong things, running against one of the three most charismatic presidents of the past century. Ferraro was as relevant to Mondale's loss as George H.W. Bush was to Reagan's victory.
At any rate, I've always liked and respected Ferraro, and thought that she deserved more credit than history has given her. Which is why her comments about Barack Obama are so disappointing.
In an interview, Ferraro said that Obama was leading Hillary Clinton because he's an African-American.
"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she continued. "And if he was a woman (of any color) 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."Which leads one to ask: what?
Look, I know that Obama has benefited from sexist opposition to Clinton. But one can make a persuasive argument that Clinton's big win in Ohio last Tuesday had a lot to to with racist opposition to Obama.
Again, the fact is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are where they are in this race in spite of the fact that Clinton is a woman and Obama is African-American. They are both running uphill on the playing field. If you doubt me, go take a look at the presidents of the United States, and tell me how many of them are women, or black. You know and I know that the answer is zero.
What angers me most about Ferraro's statement is that it's part and parcel of the backlash to racial integration in our country. The attacks on affirmative action have come from whites cynically or credulously believing that it gives African-Americans an "unfair" advantage in hiring. Even I, in my salad days when I was green in judgment, thought there might be something to that.
Of course, that's because we've long heard chatter about "reverse racism" and "reverse sexism," how white men are profoundly disadvantaged because of the quota system that helps everyone else at the expense of the poor white man. And we heard how African-Americans were getting a leg up on everyone else, getting promoted beyond their abilities, all because of namby-pamby political correctness.
I eventually figured out, as most of you probably always realized, that this is insane. I realized one day that no, we don't live in a country with a level playing field, and no, it's not "reverse discrimination" to help someone up one flight of stairs when you kicked them down two.
Being a white man is an advantage in politics, especially presidential politics, because we expect our leader will be a white man. That is the default, after all, and none of us has ever known a president to be anything else. Barack Obama is not getting a free pass to the nomination because he's an African-American, and Hillary Clinton did not leap over John Edwards because she's a woman. They earned this, despite everything.
The Democratic party is poised to nominate someone who is not a white man. That is a testament to the party's growth, and a testament to the man and woman who are the last people standing in the bid for the nomination. But Ferraro's comments remind us that there are many people, even many progressives who will still find reason to believe that somehow, Obama or Clinton had it easier than a white candidate would, than a male candidate would. Sorry, but anyone who's watched this election who can think that is either racist, sexist, or both. And that disappoints me greatly with regard to Ferraro.