Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ferraro & the Furies

I know in that Geraldine Ferraro is so yesterday's news, replaced by the wrongheaded Reverend Wright in the Damage the Candidate Contest. Of course, what these outspoken "spokesmen" haven't quite figured out is which candidate they are damaging -- their own or the other side.

However, I wanted to write about my personal disappointment with Ferraro -- who was an inspiration to me when she ran as Veep on the Dem ticket in 1984 as to how far a woman could aspire to go. She was smart, feisty and successful. All that I too was aspiring for as I began my legal career and faced obstacles that were clearly due solely to my sex. She gave me hope that I could get beyond those impediments, which at times seemed substantial. In fact, I wrote not that long ago about the conundrum I faced trying to decide whether to support Clinton or Obama, now that Pennsylvania was given a say in the primary, Do I Follow My Sex or My Heart?.

But the fractured flaming by Ferraro has left me furious. As Will Bunch of Attytood put it:

You've probably hearing for months now that the 2008 election is really all about the legacy of some old white guy who was popular a generation ago. The Republicans want that guy to be Ronald Reagan. The Hillary Clinton wing of the Democratic Party wants their 20th Century icon to be Archie Bunker.

And so now the Clinton campaign has found it's true voice in the person of Archie Bunker's former Queens congresswoman, Geraldine Ferraro. You couldn't make this up if you tried. It's just too perfect.
Citing a July 14, 1984, Associated Press story about Geraldine Ferraro's congressional district in Queens, N.Y., he notes the similarity:
Davey glanced up and down the bar then leaned forward confidentially. "Let me tell you something about this neighborhood. It's like an Archie Bunker neighborhood here. Really conservative."

His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper.

"If Archie were real and he lived here," said Davey, "he'd be the mayor."
See also, Geraldine's "Race-Bait 2008" World Tour started right here at the Philadelphia Daily News.

Archie Bunker would also be more than welcome, even today, in many parts of Pennsylvania, as was noted in Bloomberg News, Obama's Momentum Runs Into Speed Bump of `Archie Bunker' Voters. In essence, it's what Governor Ed Rendell said about a month ago about some Pennsylvania voters that got him in trouble for being honest enough to express. See The Contest.

My cousin Jim -- who I've been trying to convince to vote for Clinton if Obama loses -- pointed me to this editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the issue, Ferraro's Remark:
Hillary Clinton wouldn't be as strong a contender for the Democratic Party nomination for president if she were a man.

That's the corollary to Clinton campaigner Geraldine Ferraro's remark that Barack Obama wouldn't be the front-runner in that race if he were white.

Truth is, gender and race can't help but play an important role in this election. Either an African American or a woman is within months of becoming a historic first for this nation.

* * * *

That's what makes Ferraro's comment so egregious. It serves only to exploit the racist inclinations of that part of America that to this day refuses to see black people as equals.

The comment also smacks of a political calculation that includes both Bill Clinton's earlier comparison of Obama's campaign to Jesse Jackson's in the '80s and Gov. Rendell's assessment that some whites in Pennsylvania will never vote for a black candidate.

Sure, what they said was true. But it was also what any adult with a working brain in America already knew.

Rather than providing insight, their statements had the distinct aroma of political stink bombs thrown to convince Obama supporters to jump ship.

You don't really think America will elect a black man president.

* * * *

Politics is like war, so no one should be surprised that the losing side would resort to unsavory tactics to win. But expecting the worse from politicians doesn't mean you have to condone it.

Indeed, it's voters' weariness with politics as usual that has pushed Obama ahead - not that his father was an African. Hillary Clinton should know that by now and dump anyone else who wants to exploit race to win votes.

That has been an outrageous political tactic for decades. And it has worked because America remains racially divided. The Democratic Party has touted itself as best able to bring the nation together. But comments like Ferraro's say otherwise.

See also, The Ferraro Fallacy. Not surprisingly, this just crystallized my cousin's view of Hillary Clinton -- and has made my job of convincing him not to vote for John "Hundred Years War" McCain all the harder. And harder for me too, I must say.

After all, it's more than a little suspicious that Ferraro got her voice just as the Archie voters in Pennsylvania have moved to the forefront of the electorate. On the other hand, not everyone sees that as the underlying message of Ferraro. Michelle Goldberg writes at Guardian's Comment is free, that the attacks are the passionate response to the feeling of betrayal by feminists towards one of their own. As she says in Hell hath no fury:
Infuriated by Barack Obama's ascent, Geraldine Ferraro, erstwhile feminist icon, has transformed herself into Archie Bunker in heels. First she claimed that Obama owes his electoral success to being black, as if Hillary Clinton were some unlucky victim of affirmative action, in danger of losing a job she deserves to an unqualified token. As the uproar over her comments grew, she dug in further, claiming that she herself is the injured party: 'Racism works in two different directions,' she said. 'I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?'

How's that? Well, that's the kind of thing Rush Limbaugh and other self-appointed spokesmen for the beleaguered white male like to say. To hear a putative progressive, the first and only American woman ever nominated for vice-president, complain about the unfair advantages black men enjoy in American life is, to say the least, disappointing. (Maybe it shouldn't be - the Politico informs us that she said similar things about Jesse Jackson in the 1980s, though her comments had since been largely forgotten.) Yesterday, having thoroughly disgraced herself, she quit her post on Clinton's finance committee, though she remained blithely self-righteous about the entire affair, never offering even a hint of an apology.

Some have suggested the whole thing was part of a Clinton scheme to ratchet up racial tensions in advance of the Pennsylvania primary. That's possible, but there's a simpler explanation. Several otherwise admirable, even heroic women seem to identify with Clinton so profoundly that they interpret rejection of her as a personal rebuke. Stung, they accuse Obama supporters of flighty illogic, but there's a powerful, extra-rational emotional current in their arguments, a flailing in the face of an imagined betrayal. In their anger, they're lashing out in all kinds of counterproductive ways, doing far more damage to feminism than a Clinton loss ever could.
As she states, that presumes that a vote for Hillary is a vote for feminism, nothing more. How about her positions on the issues? My biggest objection to Hillary is that she's too moderate, which is why I was an Edwards supporter until he dropped out. Goldberg recalls that the late, great Molly Ivins was no Clinton supporter:
Of course, it doesn't. The fact is, some of the most incisive feminist writers and effective feminist activists - people like Katha Pollitt, Frances Kissling and Eve Ensler, among many others - are backing Obama. The late Molly Ivins - a fiercely progressive, genuinely populist Texan in her 60s - spelled out her opposition to Clinton in January of 2006, in a column bluntly titled "I will not support Hillary Clinton for president". "Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone," she wrote. "This is not a Dick Morris election. Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges."

* * * *
Many progressives, male and female alike, see Clinton as cynical and narcissistic, pandering to interest-group sectarianism even as she compromises on important principals.
This is why I'm not sure that I will end up supporting Clinton in the primary -- despite intense pressure from my feminist friends!

In the end, I think Andy Borowitz has the right view of the Ferraro problem. It's identity politics that's the real issue, in that she's just not happy with her own identity. As Borowitz writes, Ferraro: I Wish I Were a Black Man:

"I wish I were a black man," Ms. Ferraro told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "That way, I could make all the racist comments about black men that I wanted to and no one would call me a racist."

Ms. Ferraro added, "As it is, being a white woman, when I make racist remarks about black men everyone accuses me of being a racist."

"This is why being a white woman totally sucks," Ms. Ferraro said.

The former New York congresswoman also said that she wished her middle name was 'Hussein,' explaining, "If my middle name was Hussein I'd be president by now."

While Ms. Ferraro's remarks would appear to be disadvantageous to the Clinton campaign, she does seem to be drawing support from one key voting bloc: lunatics.

According to a new poll of likely voters, Ms. Ferraro has the support of 60% of respondents who describe themselves as incoherent.

(Cartoon: David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

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