Oh Geraldine, Where Art Thou

by

Ms. Ferraro’s original comment:

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position, 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.”

Geraldine Ferraro responds to criticism of her comments about Barak Obama:

“I was talking about historic candidacies and what I started off by saying (was that) if you go back to 1984 and look at my historic candidacy, which I had just talked about all these things, in 1984 if my name was Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would have never been chosen as a vice presidential candidate,” Ferraro said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” ”It had nothing to do with my qualification.”

Is Ms. Ferraro a closet racist, or is it possible that there was a certain amount of truth in what she said, however politically incorrect and insensitive it was of her to bring it up?

Earlier in the campaign, there was some discussion by Black journalists as to whether Obama was a legitimate representative of the African American community – whether he was really Black enough. I remember one black writer saying, in a column or editorial, something to the effect that Obama was having the success he was with white voters because he represented white people’s version of a “Good Negro,” and therefore questioned whether Barak was really “down with the struggle.”

ISTM that Ms. Ferraro was simply stating the obvious, both in regard to her own situation in 1984 and to Obama’s – and everyone else’s – in the current race. Would Hillary be where she is in the race if she weren’t a female, a former First Lady, and the wife of a former President? Would McCain be where he is if he weren’t a white male long serving senator and war hero? Would Mitt Romney have ever been a factor if he wasn’t a successful business man, former governor, and a gizillionare?

It isn’t racist to say that, if Barak Obama was a white male first term senator from Illinois he, in all probability, wouldn’t even be on the presidential radar screen, but it also isn’t particularly helpful. He is who he is, just like the other candidates, and the reality that who he is has been partly responsible for him taking away some of the Clinton’s previous core constituency is just a fact of life they have to live with.

Is there too much knee jerk political correctness in the press? Are we too quick to shout “racist, sexist, liberal, conservative,” etc.? Have we become more interested in labeling the speaker than fairly examining the statement?

Questions from the right lunatic fringe.

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23 Responses to “Oh Geraldine, Where Art Thou”

  1. DeJon Says:

    Cap’n, first, I gotta say thank you for making me feel so young. I haven’t thought about Geraldine Ferraro since I was 8 years old!

    Second, and briefly… I agree with you. Her assertion is not helpful. Perhaps one could argue its not racist, but I think the opposite position would be easier to support.

    Personally, I would prefer if the nature of American public discourse were characterized as too sensitive to the issues of race and gender inequality. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that is the case.

  2. captmidknight Says:

    Dejon said:
    “Cap’n, first, I gotta say thank you for making me feel so young. I haven’t thought about Geraldine Ferraro since I was 8 years old!”
    ________
    Your welcome. I usually make everyone on the blog feel young. In 1984, I was 39 years old and had just checked out as a Captain on the DC-10.

    Gerry’s disassociating herself from Hillary’s campaign, but she isn’t going quietly.

    “I was reading an article that said young Republicans are out there campaigning for Obama because they believe he’s going to be able to put an end to partisanship,” Ferraro said, clearly annoyed. “Dear God! Anyone that has worked in the Congress knows that for over 200 years this country has had partisanship – that’s the way our country is.”

    And this from the Dailybreeze.com:
    “Ferraro said she was simply stating an obvious truth, as seen in exit polls that show Obama taking as much as 80 percent of the black vote in the Democratic primaries. “In all honesty, do you think that if he were a white male, there would be a reason for the black community to get excited for a historic first?” Ferraro said. “Am I pointing out something that doesn’t exist?”

    I didn’t vote for her in ‘84, but I like her style, especially her first comment. There are so many things about politics that everyone knows are true, but it’s not often that somebody has the guts to say them out loud.

  3. ari Says:

    So, when you say “everyone,” as in “everyone knows is true,” you mean everyone who agrees with you, right? Otherwise, you’re completely full of it. No offense, of course. But this a a big and very diverse country, marked by lots of disparate opinions. The idea that Ferraro claims that Obama’s (you spelled his first name incorrectly, by the way) race helped him get where he is just stuns me. Meaning: I don’t know that the charge is true. In fact, I think it’s obviously wrong and profoundly racist. So please don’t lump me with your ‘everyone.”

  4. ari Says:

    Also: I wrote a really nasty comment. Then I cleaned it up. But I still regret the angry tone and any offense that might result from it. Something about the words “politically correct” just makes my blood boil. Anyway, I really am sorry to be crabby.

  5. urbino Says:

    It is a racist statement, to me, Cap’n, because, out of a multitude of factors, it plucks out race and holds it up as THE cause of Obama’s success. She may be right (more on that momentarily), but she can be both right and racist.

    It’s like Bill Bennett’s comment a couple years ago that if we want to reduce violent crime, we should just abort every black baby. That’s both statistically correct and completely racist. Violent crime is highest among African-Americans, and African-Americans do commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes. But if you really wanted to reduce violent crime, you’d abort every male baby, because being male is a much better predictor of violence than being black. Or you could abort every poor baby, because poverty is also a better predictor than race.

    Bennett wasn’t wrong, statistically speaking, but he was still racist. He took a complex phenomenon with strong statistical correlations to lots of things, plucked out race, and said, “Aha! Here’s the REAL issue.” That is the very (or at least one) definition of racism: reducing people and complex phenomena to race, and race alone; seeing race before everything else, and predicating explanations on it.

    Ferraro did the same thing. Barack Obama is a successful politician for a whole host of reasons. He’s extremely intelligent, extremely well educated, well traveled, experienced in community organizing, personable, a natural leader, extremely articulate, even-tempered, a terrific fundraiser, has assembled a good team, has ideas and proposals that people like, etc.

    Pulling his race out of all that and saying, “If he were white, he wouldn’t be here,” is racist.

  6. urbino Says:

    As for whether or not being black helps Obama, I think it’s pretty obvious that it does in some circumstances, but it also hurts in others. He is winning the black vote by large margins, but blacks are a small minority in this country. In a state like MS or SC, where large black populations are concentrated, it helps him. Everywhere else, though, it hurts him.

    It clearly hurt him in TX and OH. It hurt him in CA. It’s going to hurt him badly in PA. It probably hurt him in MA, NY, and NJ.

    And as a general matter, all the uproar over Affirmative Action notwithstanding, being black in this country is still not an advantage. It does not make one better off. Quite the opposite.

  7. msmiranda Says:

    I am also troubled by the notion that she was “just speaking the non-P.C. truth.” First of all, John Edwards was a first-term Senator when he ran in 2004, and he was certainly “on the radar screen” even though he didn’t ultimately get the (presidential) nomination. I’m sure there have been others as well in the past. So, I don’t think you can say that race is the only reason a first-term Senator would be a viable presidential candidate.

    In my mind, Obama’s break-out moment happened before he was elected to the Senate, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He gave a speech that moved a lot of people and swept him onto the national stage. The themes of the speech were the same ones he is campaigning on today — hope, change, working together to make a better America. Naive and idealistic, as Ferraro says? Maybe. But those ideas speak to a lot of people who are sick of politics as usual, including myself. I’m not sure it can be done, but I’m very sure it should be tried, as often as possible.

    So I think it’s Obama’s ideas, his eloquence in expressing them, and his talent for combining the style of a preacher with that of a politician that explains his appeal and the fact that he’s gotten so far in this race. Certainly the fact that he’s African American has not hurt him in winning the support of African American voters, but the Clintons are about half responsible for that with the racist way they have conducted Hillary’s campaign. But beyond that, how on earth has being African American helped him? Are you alleging that it’s because all the non-black Democrats who voted for him are engaged in some electoral version of affirmative action? I mean, please. That just doesn’t seem plausible. Like he said, having a name like Barack Obama does not automatically get you on the fast track to being president (I’m paraphrasing).

    It is perhaps the case that Ferraro’s comments were more sexist than they were racist. What I mean by that is that I see lots of women voting for Hillary because they think it’s “about time that we had a woman president.” Maureen Dowd called this “shoulder-pad feminism” in a recent column. I consider myself a feminist, but this whole second-wave, sisters-must-stick-together, “you’re a traitor if you back Obama” crap is about on my last nerve. Old-school feminists like Ferraro are foaming at the mouth that Obama’s youth and idealism are more appealing to a lot of people than Hillary’s politics as usual. “He didn’t wait his turn,” my friend A. said to me last week. Like she somehow has a right to the nomination because she waited through Bill’s presidency and a term as senator. So Ferraro’s comments came from a place of sexism — unquestioning support of Hillary because she’s a woman.

    However, there’s no doubt in my mind that the comments were racist as well, no matter how she intended them. It seems reasonable to assume that she might have been trying to taint Obama’s candidacy with the specter of affirmative action, implying that he isn’t qualified. That would be in keeping with the Clintons’ tone and message. Even if that’s not what she intended, that’s what I hear in her remarks. And it is racist.

  8. urbino Says:

    Certainly the fact that he’s African American has not hurt him in winning the support of African American voters, but the Clintons are about half responsible for that with the racist way they have conducted Hillary’s campaign.

    I meant to comment on this, as well. You’ve said repeatedly, Cap’n, that black voters and black leaders were jumping ship on the Clintons to support one of their own. I pointed out at the time(s) that that simply wasn’t the case. Black voters overwhelmingly supported Hillary as recently as Dec. Obama had to win them away from her, and, as miranda points out, Hillary helped. A lot. Black leaders, likewise, have not rushed to Obama’s camp.

    if Barak Obama was a white male first term senator from Illinois he, in all probability, wouldn’t even be on the presidential radar screen

    Um, Lincoln had never been more than a white male one-term representative from Illinois, in 1860. Seems like he made it onto the presidential radar. GW Bush, Bill Clinton, and Reagan had never held a national office of any kind, but they made it on.

  9. ari Says:

    Don’t forget Kennedy, who had almost no accomplishments, save for family connections and a good war record, when he went to the Senate and later won the presidency.

  10. captmidknight Says:

    Wow!
    Looks like Geraldine and I stirred up some comments.

    Believe it or not, I didn’t really post that to defend Ms. Ferraro. I just liked the fact that she didn’t seem intimidated by the press and what she saw as the spin they put on her comments. She hasn’t yet, as far as I know, caved in. In fact, in some later comments, she cites her record going back for years claiming that it shows that she’s not either racist or sexist. Make up your own mind if that’s true or not.

    No way for me to address every comment, but I’ll try one or two:

    “So, when you say “everyone,” as in “everyone knows is true,” you mean everyone who agrees with you, right? Otherwise, you’re completely full of it. No offense, of course.”
    ________
    None taken, of course.

    Actually, that “everyone knows” comment was inspired by Ms. Ferraro’s comment about the young republicans who were campaigning for Obama, believing that he would put an end to “partisanship,” and not by anything she said about Obama (I’m only using his last name until I can get the first one right).

    Obviously there’s no policy or philosophical position that “everyone knows,” is right (just a figure of speech, mea coulpa), but some of the general characteristics of politics in a democracy come pretty close. Ms. Ferraro’s amazement at the idea that Obama or any other politician could eliminate “partisanship”is a case in point. Partisanship, if by that you mean different groups with different opinions competing in the arena of politics for the right to lead a free people, is what our system is all about. To eliminate that kind of partisanship would mean the end of freedom. I think I can safely say that nobody really expects to see much reduction in partisanship, whoever is elected, but it would sure be nice to see the civility index go up a few points.

    If I didn’t believe in – and actually enjoy – the right of everybody to their own opinions, I wouldn’t still be on this blog. I could easily find someplace where everybody would tell me how smart I was to hold all the “right”positions, but where the fun in that? Wasn’t it Groucho Marx that said “I wouldn’t be in a club that would have me as a member?”

    OTOH, I might just be a masochist or, as you suggested, I might simply be “full of it.” Time will tell.

    “Something about the words “politically correct” just makes my blood boil. Anyway, I really am sorry to be crabby.”
    _________
    Mine too, and, believe it or not, probably for some of the same reasons. Also, don’t apologize about crabby. There are days when, if it wasn’t for crabby, I’d have no mood at all.

    “It is perhaps the case that Ferraro’s comments were more sexist than they were racist …
    “Old-school feminists like Ferraro are foaming at the mouth that Obama’s youth and idealism are more appealing to a lot of people than Hillary’s politics as usual.”
    _________
    You may be right. Do you think there might still be some resentment about being picked for VP because she was female? After all, she said it herself – ”It had nothing to do with my qualification.” Were her comments maybe more about herself than about Barack Obama?

    “Barack Obama is a successful politician for a whole host of reasons. He’s extremely intelligent, extremely well educated, well traveled, experienced in community organizing, personable, a natural leader, extremely articulate, even-tempered, a terrific fund raiser, has assembled a good team, has ideas and proposals that people like, etc.”
    __________
    All true. The fact that he is a charismatic young Black politician is certainly a factor in his success so far, but far from the only factor – and maybe not even the main factor, as Ms. Ferraro claimed. Win or loose, he’ll be around for a long time. Maybe, just maybe, he can be responsible for moving the country as a whole a little closer to the time when people will be judged, “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” We can hope.

    Finally, my preacher’s sermon last Sunday was on “Confession,” so I have a confession to make:

    What really interested me in Ms. Ferraro’s comments and the treatment of them in the press is the fact that they came from a liberal democrat with, until now, solid credentials and what she claimed is a long record for civil rights. I confess that my first thoughts were: “Can you imagine what it would have been like if the comments had come from someone in McCain’s campaign?”

  11. urbino Says:

    If Obama wins the nomination, I expect we’ll find out.

    Here’s an amusing take on it:

    Similarly, if Hillary Clinton were a black man, it’s unlikely that she would have been a national political figure for the past 15 years, as it’s unlikely that she would have married another man from Arkansas, and unlikely that the country would have put an interracial, same sex couple in the White House. But so what?

  12. captmidknight Says:

    “If Obama wins the nomination, I expect we’ll find out.
    _______
    Nice pithy come back, but Isn’t that a little sterotypical – dare I even suggest “mean spirited?”

  13. urbino Says:

    Didn’t mean it to be a comeback, at all. It was just a statement of what I fully expect. Nor is there any parallel between my saying it and Ms. Ferraro saying what she said. Engaging in racebaiting and calling somebody out when they’re doing it are not moral equivalents.

    Your party has very intentionally appealed to racism for political advantage for the past 40 years. I don’t think they’re suddenly going to give it up now that they can use it directly against a presidential candidate. I’d bet that if you don’t think they will, you’re one of very few, even among GOP supporters. I guarantee you no GOP political pros or insiders think it won’t be used. They would be angry if it wasn’t; it would be like leaving money on the table.

    I don’t say any of that to be mean. I say it because it is, on the available evidence, true. Pretty obviously true. I’m under no illusion that the Democratic Party is due a sainthood, but this is one of the very few issues where one of the parties clearly is morally superior to the other. (Which is one reason Hillary’s campaign has been so infuriating to many of us.) As we’ve discussed before, the GOP used to have the high ground on this one. They very intentionally gave it up for political advantage. I just don’t think this is the year when they’re going to change that strategy.

  14. ari Says:

    Capt. you’re a gracious host. And your good humor about my comment has further chastened me. I would, though, say one more thing (because I’m a jerk): if there’s one issue around which we can safely say that almost nobody agrees, it’s race. Partisanship, maybe. Race, nope. And Ferraro was talking about race. So, whether she’s courageous for not backing down before the press corps, or monumentally stupd for not knowing when to say sorry (like Sam Power), her comments were not likely to be welcomed with anything like universal agreement.

  15. msmiranda Says:

    “I’m under no illusion that the Democratic Party is due a sainthood, but this is one of the very few issues where one of the parties clearly is morally superior to the other. (Which is one reason Hillary’s campaign has been so infuriating to many of us.) ”

    Yes, that’s precisely it. Precisely. And which is why I am so angry with a friend of mine who supports Hillary that I don’t even want to talk to her right now.

    “Do you think there might still be some resentment about being picked for VP because she was female? After all, she said it herself – ”It had nothing to do with my qualification.” Were her comments maybe more about herself than about Barack Obama?”

    I don’t think so. I think the reason that she doesn’t think her comment was racist is that she’s perfectly okay with the idea of electing someone to public office based upon a demographic characteristic just to show that it can be done. In this election, she would prefer that it be the woman, and that’s why there was an ugly undertone to her comments that people picked up on. If she was in support of Obama and communicated the same idea, it might well have been interpreted differently, but then again, she wouldn’t have said it in the same way (i.e., “and the whole country’s caught up in the concept” — implying that his candidacy is merely an idea rather than something fully developed, which picks up on the “all talk no substance” meme).

  16. alsturgeon Says:

    I love you with the love of the Lord!

    (Everybody, sing along now…)

    I love you with the love of the Lord!

    (C’mon, even you guys that don’t like each other!)

    I see in you the glory of my king, and I love you with the love of the Lord!

    (There. All better.)

  17. captmidknight Says:

    “I love you with the love of the Lord!
    (Everybody, sing along now…)
    I love you with the love of the Lord!
    (C’mon, even you guys that don’t like each other!)
    I see in you the glory of my king, and I love you with the love of the Lord!
    (There. All better.)”
    _________

    Al,
    Inspired by your heart felt attempt to bring about a Rodney King “Can’t we all just get along?” moment, I’ve spent most of the afternoon trying to come up with a few things we might all actually agree on. It’s hard work, but maybe these four:

    1. With the exception of a few honorable men and women, politics is – or has become – generally a dirty business.

    2. Garrison Keillor was right – all our children are above average.

    3. A little chocolate couldn’t hurt.

    4. Al is one of the good guys.

    Can I get an Amen?

  18. alsturgeon Says:

    I’m with you on the first three, but I know way too much dirt on #4 to agree.

  19. msmiranda Says:

    I will say Amen to all of those, although I’m not sure what the Garrison Keillor one means (that everyone thinks her child is above average?).

  20. captmidknight Says:

    “I’m not sure what the Garrison Keillor one means (that everyone thinks her child is above average?).”
    _________
    That was thrown in for some of us who are fans of Keillor’s radio program “A Prairie Home Companion.”
    On the show, he does a 10 minute or so monolog about the latest happenings in his imaginary home town in Minnesota called “The News From Lake Woebegone.” At the end, he always sings off with the same comment:

    “That’s the news from Lake Woebegone,
    Where all the women are strong
    And all the men are good looking
    And all the children are above average.”

    An inside joke, I’ll admit.

  21. captmidknight Says:

    My bad. He doesn’t “sing off.” He signs off.

    Old fingers. Dim light.

  22. DeJon Says:

    Perhaps I’m guilty of deceased equine battery, but I thought this was worthy of note.

    (And I’m not big on Olbermann)

    Keith Olbermann Special Comment On Hillary and Ferraro

  23. captmidknight Says:

    “Perhaps I’m guilty of deceased equine battery, but I thought this was worthy of note.”
    (And I’m not big on Olbermann)
    __________
    That was the first time I’ve listened to one of his commentaries all the way through. He was very passionate and obviously disappointed, even on a personal level, with Hillary’s handling of the Ferraro comments. So much so that resorted (for her own good, of course – as a warning) to the ultimate insult “You’re campaigning like a Republican!” The unspoken rest of the thought possibly being something like “everybody knows they are racist, but not you.” But maybe that’s my prejudice coming out.
    The theme of his comments seemed to be that, naturally he didn’t think Hillary was racist, but that she was letting her advisors and her timid response (as he saw it) make her look that way.

    I can’t help feeling that the Liberals, Democrats, The Left – attach whatever label you like – are finally beginning to learn a hard lesson that we in the South have been struggling with for a long time.
    It’s fairly easy for a ruling class – whether ruling a country, leading a business, a church, a union, a political party, or some other entity – to treat any minority under their control with a certain amount of tolerance, understanding and even material support, as long as that minority remains relatively weak, disorganized, grateful, and reliable.

    Of course, in any situation of power, there will be those who use their position to actively persecute the weak and helpless for their own gratification. We’ve seen that often enough in the South over the years. They are cowards, but usually not too large a percentage of the group. I’m convinced that most people, even in the ruling class, are not naturally cruel or even consciously prejudiced or racist, at least in their own minds, but they do tend to be primarily concerned with their own welfare and willing to leave such minorities as exist in a sort of benign neglect at best.

    Let any minority acquire enough power of its own to mount a legitimate challenge to the current power structure, however, and things change. Along with a feeling of betrayal, the existing power structure soon finds itself shifting into survival mode, revealing feelings and taking actions they may not have considered otherwise. In the rising minority, they may also discover deep seated resentments they never believed existed.

    I suspect that some of the above is at play in the recent events and statements in the campaign. A minority within a larger political group has, for the first time, a strong contender for national power, long held by the ruling majority (in spite of strides made by minorities and women in recent years, both major political parties are still run by white men).

    Obama and Hillary are both trying hard to stay above the level of the nastier mud slinging, either because they are savvy politicians or just trying to be decent human beings. On balance, it seems that Obama is having more success, but further out in each group, others are feeling freer to say what they feel, and some of those repressed resentments are boiling over, most recently from Ferraro and Obama’s pastor. Both of these obviously believe that they are speaking the truth. They also may feel that they are helping their respective candidate, but the reaction seems to indicate otherwise.

    I do sympathize with Mr. Olbermann. It must be a blow to realize that, given the right circumstances, members of your own party, who are supposed to above such things, are capable of actions and words that are on a par even with the veinal and despicable Republicans.
    Say it ain’t so!

    I offer no empirical data or evidence for the above statement. It is based entirely on my own opinion, but I submit that it is informed, to some extent, by my experience growing up in the small town segregated South as it was before the relatively enlightened period of the mid to late ‘60s and later which most of you remember. Beginning in my early teens, it has taken me 50 years to pull myself out of exactly the kind of prejudice, racism, and intolerance that we are getting glimpses of in today’s news. Had it not been for some good luck (or maybe providence) tough intellectual work, and some very human but very Godly black Christian brothers and sisters, I’d never have made it even this far. Maybe that’s why it irritates me to tarred so often by the “guilt by association” brush.

    I’m sorry for another long and somewhat personal post, but that’s what you often get from a crabby old guy with a keyboard.

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