Geraldine Ferraro, trailblazer, dies at age 75

GERALDINE FERRARO, TRAILBLAZER, DIES AT AGE 75…. The 1984 presidential election was the first I followed in any detail. I was 11, just old enough to notice how interesting this whole “politics” thing really was.

One of the things that made the year unique, of course, was the historic nature of the Democratic ticket. Like plenty of kids, I can recall looking in books and noticing that every major-party ticket in American history featured candidates with the same qualities: they were all white men. Walter Mondale, to his credit, was committed to changing that.

On the short list was an up-and-coming San Francisco mayor by the name of Dianne Feinstein, but Mondale ultimately went with New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, who died yesterday at the age of 75.

Dave Weigel flagged the statement released by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), which did a nice job capturing the role for which Ferraro will always be remembered.

I’ll never forget when Walter Mondale chose Gerry for his running mate in at the Democratic National Convention in 1984. She became our first woman Vice Presidential candidate. It sent shock waves through the country. The entire nation was proud that we had broken this barrier. It changed the way we thought of ourselves. Women began looking at themselves in a new way. They would say — she’s not that much older than me. She’s not that different than me. She definitely has worked hard. But she did it. Maybe I can do it too.

I was so proud of her. So proud of the Democrats. And so honored to second her nomination at the Democratic Convention that August. It was electric. The male delegates had given their tickets to their female alternates so they could witness this grand moment in history. Ten thousand people packed the auditorium, including lots of children. So many people there never thought they’d live to see the day we’d have a woman candidate for vice president.

After the campaign — I told her, “Gerry — it’s kind of like breaking the sound barrier for the first time. You know, those guys in those planes starting to get to Mach 1 and then they got to Mach 2, or whatever it is they do to break the barrier. We got shaken up and pushed and pulled in a lot of directions just like they did. We didn’t do it, but it’s only the first time out.”

Geraldine Ferraro cracked the marble ceiling. She paved the way for women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Someday, a woman will become President of the United States — and Geraldine Ferraro paved the way. But she also paved the way for women in their day-to-day lives.

In the more than quarter-century since the 1984 campaign, further progress on gender equality in the political world has been, at best, mixed. The number of women in Congress has grown considerably since the mid-80s, though last year, it shrank, and Capitol Hill is still dominated by men. We’ve seen women rise to prominence in national media — Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Rachel Maddow, Christiane Amanpour. Leslie Stahl — but most of the voices that dominate the discourse are also still men. The number of women on the U.S. Supreme Court has reached record highs, but the total has still only gone from one of nine to three of nine. We finally had a woman as Speaker of the House, but she only had two terms, and was ruthlessly demonized by the far-right.

And in national electoral politics, there’s only been one other woman to make a major-party ticket, and her nomination was little more than a campaign stunt gone horribly awry.

Ferraro blazed an important trail for women at the national level, but the point is that trail remains too narrow and traveled by too few. As Time noted yesterday, Ferraro’s passing “is a moment to consider how much work remains for the cause of gender equality that she symbolized.”

President Obama also issued a statement yesterday, saying, “Michelle and I were saddened to learn about the passing of Geraldine Ferraro. Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life. Whether it was as a public school teacher, assistant district attorney, Member of Congress, or candidate for Vice President, Geraldine fought to uphold America’s founding ideals of equality, justice, and opportunity for all. And as our Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, she stood up for those ideals around the world. Sasha and Malia will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live.”