Geraldine Ferraro: Political Trailblazer

By: Brooke Claflin

            In the past year both the media and America as a whole have been extremely focused on Hillary Clinton and her campaign. However, other female politicians, both past and present, have not received the same level of coverage. Of course other female politicians, excluding Carly Fiorina, were not running for president, so this disparity doesn’t surprise or worry me too much. However, I do think that people often forget that there are women in both houses of Congress currently striving to take more steps towards equal representation. Therefore, I want to mention one woman who did a fair amount of trailblazing during her lifetime, Geraldine Ferraro, a female politician whom I first learned about through the documentary, “Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way.” Ferraro started off her career in the Queens district attorney’s office, and in 1978 she made a successful bid for the House of Representatives. Then, in 1984, Ferraro was the Democratic vice presidential candidate, making her the first female to run for this position while representing a major political party. Ferraro ran alongside Walter Mondale, a fellow Democrat. They managed to get 55% of the women’s vote, but ultimately they lost to the Republicans, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

            During her vice presidential race Ferraro faced many setbacks that can now be paralleled with those faced by Hillary Clinton this past election cycle. For example, Ferraro and her husband kept separate finances, so, as a private citizen, he did not feel the need to release his tax returns. However, the Republican party latched onto this issue as something they could attack without repercussions; there was a fear that certain attacks might be seen as solely based upon Ferraro’s gender, whereas taxation was a genderless issue. Thus, as America adjusted to the presence of a woman in the bid for the White House, Ferraro remained composed even under this intensified level of scrutiny. However, her opponents continued to bring up the tax returns issue, even after its resolution, in order to drag Ferraro’s name through the mud, which brings to mind the constant rehashing of Clinton’s emails this past presidential election. Moreover, this incredible concern over missing tax returns also forces one to consider why Trump has not faced the same intense level of scrutiny over his own tax returns. Of course it has been brought up by the media, but not quite so incessantly nor has it threatened his image in the same way.

            Moreover, the vice presidential debate of 1984 makes for an interesting study of gendered politics. In the debate, George H. W. Bush said, “Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon,” and Ferraro replied, “Let me first of all say that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.” Thus, Ferraro called him out on his condescending attitude. However, perhaps even more telling was the great divide between men and women in regards to the outcome of this debate; women overwhelmingly thought that Ferraro had won and men thought the same of Bush. Although this past year the majority of news outlets and shows declared Clinton the victor of the debates, Trump’s unimpressive performances did not seem to heavily impact his levels of support. Whereas, if Ferraro or Clinton had appeared overly flustered or unprepared for their debates, most likely their mistakes would have been scrutinized heavily and repeatedly.

            Overall, when I watched the documentary, “Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way,” I was impressed by Ferraro’s poise and ability. I also was incredibly upset that I hadn’t known about her vice presidential bid sooner. Even though she lost, I still think her story shows incredible courage and can help to inspire more women to try things that they previously considered unattainable. To anyone seeking a new political role model, Geraldine Ferraro definitely fits the bill. 

 

If you want to read more about the specifics of Geraldine Ferraro’s life, here is a link to her obituary in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/us/politics/27geraldine-ferraro.html.