If you'd never seen a snowball in July, consider the case of Geraldine Ferraro. On Tuesday the representative from Queens nearly rolled into her Minnesota interview with Walter Mondale, backed by Tip O'Neill, endorsed by three congresswomen and carrying favorite daughter wishes from the weekend convention of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
At times it wasn't clear whether Ferraro was in control of this growing snowball or running to catch up with it. But even the normally cautious Ann Lewis, political director of the Democratic National Committee, enthused: "She is our Sally Ride. She's carrying into that meeting the hopes of so many women."
Well, the day-after analysis of the chemistry between Mondale and Ferraro ranged from "okay" to "pretty good." The meeting between past and hopeful vice presidents was given a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Whatever their personal relationship, it appeared that the very "pressure" for a woman vice president had begun to melt the snowball a bit around the edges.
The campaign for a woman vice president seems to have run into a classic double bind that often ensnarls women pursuing power. If women sit around waiting for their sex to be promoted, anointed or called, they often lose because they're ignored. If they make noise, organize and confront, they often lose because they're considered too pushy.
It's tricky enough to regulate the pressure valves that can make these changes in the business world, or in mainstream politics. But it takes a particularly delicate touch to influence a man who is essentially making his choice for the post of junior partner.
The president of NOW, Judy Goldsmith, is one who fell into both the passive and aggressive traps this political season. In two easy lessons of what not to do, NOW went from taking a trust walk with Mondale to calling for a confrontation.
In the fall, NOW prematurely endorsed Mondale. The largest feminist organization in the country began sounding like the National Organization for Mondale Women. Then at the annual convention, Goldsmith warned of "thunderstorms" and convention floor fights if Mondale didn't choose "a woman."
Until very recently, the idea of nominating a woman to be vice president was part of a risk strategy. Mondale is way down in the polls. A few precincts here and there aren't going to make the difference. If he wants to show some glitter, some imagination, some "newness," the argument ran, he should go for a woman.
Now it is being said that choosing a woman would look like he is trying to avoid risk, the risk of a walkout or a floor fight. Instead of standing up for women, could Mondale be accused of caving in to women?
The charge is, on the face of it, absurd. "People are reacting," says Ann Lewis,"as if it were a keenly orchestrated campaign to put a woman in. It's not as if half-a-dozen strategists got in a back room and said, 'It's time to increase the pressure.' The issue achieved momentum from the grass roots. It's a genuine grass-roots movement."
But deep in the public subconscious and, for all we know, in Mondale's subconscious, lurks the fear of pushy broads and wimpy men. Even Mondale adviser Anne Wexler, who has been excited about the possibility of Ferraro, drove to work one day last week wondering, "Have we pushed too hard? Have we blown it?"
Wexler is well aware of the double bind of women and power: "It's a position we've always been in. It's like walking through a mine field. Part of the political game is understanding how to play it."
Women, and certainly Geraldine Ferraro, began this election year as the VP long shot because there was no pressure, no constituency, no lobbying. It would be ironic if they fall back to a long shot because the pressure, the constituency, the lobbying became so intense.
Long experience in double binds suggests they are used by people looking for any tool to obstruct change. Nobody is worried about the Hart lobby. The people who seem most concerned about the negative effect of pressure are those who, deep down, don't believe Mondale will choose Ferraro, or any other woman.
My guess is that Mondale will simply choose someone with whom he is personally comfortable. Vice president was his old job, and he thinks he was pretty good at it. He'll look for a vice president who will be to him as he was to Jimmy Carter. But then, July was never a very good season for snowballs.