On Feb. 10, Geraldine Farraro and John Zaccaro renewed their wedding vows -- a real-life re-enactment of the country-western hit, "Stand By Your Man." Here was the virtuous wife reaffirming her love for a husband convicted of fraud and accused, in the course of the presidential campaign, of everything from having mob associations to misapplying the assets of a widow. Now it turns out they have more in common than we thought: They don't let propriety stand between them and making a buck.
The evidence for this is Ferraro's commercial for Diet Pepsi. For this, she is to be paid what's known in the movie business as the high six figures. Some say the amount is $1 million; others that it is as low as $500,000. At any rate, it is enough to provide a respite from the pressures of her husband's real estate dealings.
Francis O'Brien, Ferraro's campaign press secretary and her current adviser, defends the Pepsi deal by saying it probably won't spell the end of her political career -- thereby all but conceding that that career really is over. "I find it interesting that Pepsi-Cola must be seeing something in the market research about her appeal," he said. If that's the case, let's reverse the logic and assume that Michael Jackson, who got far more for a pop commercial, is even more qualified to run for public office.
Ferraro, O'Brien, et. al., miss the point -- and the importance of Geraldine Ferraro. If she were any other politician who made a commercial for a soft drink, the question of taste would arise and the answer would be in the negative. Politicians, public servants, elected officials -- call them what you want -- are not for sale. They do not endorse products for money -- especially when they do not need the money. Ferraro, after all, just signed a $1 million book contract and reported a net worth last August of almost $4 million. That kind of money, and not any soft drink, is the real thing.
But Ferraro is no ordinary politician. By hard work and shrewd politicking, she became the first woman to run for national office on a major party ticket. Her mere presence on the ticket meant something grand and wonderful to millions of people. You only have to recall the scene in St. Paul when Walter Mondale announced her as his running mate. Women cried -- and some men too -- and a wave of emotion rolled across the country.
Ferraro's Diet Pepsi commercial reportedly ends with a shot of her and her two daughters and the announcer saying, "There are a lot of choices for a woman and one of them is to be a mother." Not only is that a tasteless echo of Ferraro's campaign speeches, but it is a message she herself has managed to ignore. She, too, made a choice. When she chose to go gunning for the vice presidential nomination and when she chose to accept it, she chose also to be a spokeswoman, a symbol. Now instead of standing unambigously for that, she's chosen to sell a piece of it to Pepsi.
Geraldine Ferraro cannot by herself significantly set back the cause of women in this country any more than Jackie Robinson could have kept other blacks out of the major leagues by, say, decking the bigots who taunted him. The time had come for blacks to play in the big leagues; indeed, they could no longer be kept out. The same is true for the women's movement. It is too grand, too powerful and too overdue to be derailed by a single person -- any person.
But Ferraro has hurt the cause she chose to lead. It seems that she's just determined to prove that her critics were right all along -- that she was not qualified by experience, stature or judgment for the office she was seeking. Now she has made it harder for the next woman who is chosen to run on a national ticket. That person will be obligated to prove many things -- one of them being that she is not a Geraldine Ferraro.
So it is fitting that Ferraro and Zaccaro renewed their wedding vows. Everything seems to be real estate to them, to be bought and sold in a world inexhaustibly supplied with suckers. Now it's Pepsi's turn to be snookered. For a commercial about good taste, it's chosen a woman who's lost hers.