In late summer, the Democratic nominee for president selected a woman, who was a member of Congress, as the party’s vice-presidential candidate. The presidential candidate, himself a former vice president, knew exactly what type of person he wanted for his running mate in an election to unseat a Republican incumbent. His own service as vice president set the standard for the modern relationship between the president and vice president.
The year was 1984. Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s vice president and a former Minnesota senator, asked Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York City to join him and make history by being the first woman on a major party ticket. Mondale introduced Ferraro in the House chamber in the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul. Ferraro served three terms in the U.S. House representing Queens, a New York district that served as the location of the popular television show of that era, “All in the Family.” The district was known for its ethnic composition and conservative views. During the campaign, opponents attacked Ferraro’s family finances.
The Mondale/Ferraro team lost to Reagan/Bush, 60-40 percent.
Twenty-four years later in St. Paul, another presidential candidate introduced a woman as his running mate. During the 2008 Republican National Convention, Sen. John McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in his contest against Barack Obama and Joe Biden. McCain’s choice was intended to energize his campaign and broaden the party’s appeal beyond white men. After making a big splash in St. Paul, closer scrutiny revealed a candidate ill-prepared for the nation’s second-highest office and in no way ready for grueling national politics. However, Palin did provide the raw material to help Tina Fey earn an Emmy for mocking Palin on SNL.
The ticket, with a female vice president, lost again, with 46 percent of the vote.
Democrats picked Hillary Clinton to run in 2016 and we know how that turned out. Clinton, on paper the most prepared and qualified candidate since George H.W. Bush, lost to Donald Trump, who was and is totally unprepared and unfit for any elective office.
Were American voters ready to vote for women in those three races? Would a man have done better? Probably not. Reagan’s job approval rating was 62 percent by election day, after climbing through the 50s all summer. McCain and Palin faced a once-in-a-generation candidate whose words promised hope and change and whose election would be historic.
Clinton lost for a number of reasons. Voters didn’t much like her or Trump and took a chance on the new guy. Too many Democrats stayed home. If 37,000 votes would have flipped in three states, we’d only be seeing Trump on FOX’s late-night Saturday lineup.
Now Biden has made history again after serving two terms as vice president to the country’s first Black president. Sen. Kamala Harris would be the nation’s first Black vice president and first woman elected to that post.
Are voters ready for a woman this time? Is she too ambitious? Please make a list of the vice presidents who have not been ambitious. Start with the most recent VPs: Pence, Biden, Cheney, Gore, even Quayle, Bush 41, Mondale, Rockefeller, Ford, Agnew (ambitious and a crook). Can you claim any of them were not ambitious? OK, time to move on.
Harris faces not only sexist but also racist attacks from Trump and his crew. He’s rolled out the “nasty” label again that he reserves for any woman – politician or journalist – who gets under his skin. Because she’s not white, there’s also room for racism, casting her as an “angry Black woman.” It’s not surprising conservatives also question whether Harris, born in Oakland, California, is really an American and eligible to be vice president. Where have we seen this movie before?
While Trump is appealing to “suburban housewives” with racist messages, will 2020, the 100th anniversary of women gaining the vote, be the year when a candidate is judged by her ability, ideas and character?