TODAY WE are offering you a little preemptive hindsight, the kinds of thoughts you are usually treated to and may even harbor yourself just as soon as an election is over. For purposes of this exercise, we will assume that the near-unanimous prognostications of October are right: that the Mondale-Ferraro ticket is facing total wipeout at the polls in November. Elections are odd -- perspectives change dramatically the minute they are over and their result is known. It will be at that point (if the evidence of October proves out) -- on or around the third day after the voting -- that people will start thinking about the Mondale-Ferraro campaign in a somewhat different way. They will say that the candidates weren't so terrible after all, that they did do some pretty stouthearted and public-minded things, that in many respects you have to hand it to them . . . and so forth.
We thought we'd say some of that this morning. As of tonight, with the long-awaited first debate, a new phase of the campaign begins. Saying farewell to this one, it occurs to us that the Democrat-bashing festival which has now assumed the character of a frenzy in this country has long since lost any grounding it had in reality. For one thing, it has recreated a decent, determined and intelligent man, Walter Mondale, as some kind of weakling and fool. The frenzy ignores the strength and resolve with which Mr. Mondale has pursued his candidacy through much pressure, battering and ridicule over the past year; it dismisses as tedious or boring or stuffy his insistence on speaking seriously and in detail about the national issues a president must (or, anyway, ought to) address; it reinforces itself, this frenzy, growing ever more mindless and reflexive, full of gasps and giggles and sighs whenever the man starts to say anything that may be worth listening to.
The Republicans are helping this along -- why wouldn't they? But so too, and perhaps more importantly, is a kind of autosuggestion that, combined with the trendiness of it all, leads people to react to something that doesn't really exist. They aren't paying attention to what is being said and done and argued by the Democratic ticket. They are interpreting the man and woman who are running in degraded, catty, teen-age terms. Last week while visiting a Chrysler plant in Illinois, Geraldine Ferraro addressed her audience of auto workers directly. "What I'm here for," she said, "is not to learn how to torque a car, not for the photo opportunity. We're running a campaign, and five weeks from today you're going to make a decision on who's going to run the country. I want to know why, why one-third of you are going to vote for Ronald Reagan." She got a really good and spirited exchange going. She got the people she was visiting thinking about the issues and the stakes in this election.
It was audacious politics. The public has come to expect that from Rep. Ferraro. There is something to be said about her too. Four months ago we were all speculating about the absolutely mad and daring idea -- would he do it? -- of taking a female on a national ticket. Shortly thereafter we were all gushing. Then came the crash: the protracted assault on Rep. Ferraro for a variety of failings, some of which she acknowledged, most of which she was able to refute. She was strong throughout. She never returned the initial gush, and she didn't buckle when the pressure came. Geraldine Ferraro has gone from being a novelty to being a candidate. She has shown herself to have the stamina, resourcefulness and toughness that are the minimal requirements for holding the office she seeks.
We realize that merely to say these things, given the backdrop of almost universal contempt, will look like a wild burst of uncritical praise or an endorsement for election, even though we find more than enough to criticize in the Mondale-Ferraro ticket's positions and are not talking about endorsements at all. Consider what we have said: merely that these are two qualified, serious, estimable people who in no way deserve all the junk that is being dumped on them by their friends (what friends!) as well as their opponents. In the sense that this election is a contest between Reagan-Bush and Mondale-Ferraro, it is a much more important and interesting contest than anyone is saying now. In hindsight you will know it.