The Washington Post

Don’t mess with Geraldine Ferraro

There are two video clips that all the tributes to the late former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.) make a point of showing — and that I love watching. Not simply out of nostalgia, but for the breathtaking strength Ferraro showed then. Whereas the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee seems to wallow in victimhood, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee acknowledged the gender-based condescension head-on and then moved on.

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“Ms. Ferraro,” asked Marvin Kalb on “Meet The Press” in 1984, “could you push the nuclear button?” Ferraro answered, “I can do whatever is necessary in order to protect the security of this country.” And she said it firmly — just the way you’d expect a guy would. Kalb then asked Ferraro if she thought she would not have been selected if she weren’t a woman. “That’s . . . a double-edged sword,” she said. “I don’t know if I were, if I were not a woman, if I would be judged in the same way on my candidacy, whether or not I’d be asked questions like, you know, are you strong enough to push the button. . . .

“Let me say, first of all, that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy,” Ferraro said to his face with her New York twang to applause.

That retort typifies what I liked about Ferraro. Question her knowledge of issues or question her willingness to defend this nation, and she would clobber you without hesitation. She took guff from no one when it came to her intelligence or her strength.

A phrase comes to mind that is overused but was tailor-made for Ferraro: you go, girl! And now she’s gone. Ferraro leaves not only a grieving family but also a generation of women who were inspired to follow her lead.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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