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A Tainted Legacy

It’s hard not to see bigotry in Geraldine Ferraro’s recent remarks

By James M. Larkin

In an unsettling return to the Reagan Era—still the cause of some mourning in America—viewers of major news programs were treated to the reappearance of 72-year-old Geraldine Ferraro, former congresswoman and the second barrel on the souped-up Daisy Air Rifle that was the 1984 Mondale presidential ticket. Ferraro was defending her claims made in that bastion of political reporting, Torrance, Calif.’s “The Daily Breeze,” that Barack Obama’s political success is tied in some way to the fact that he’s black, which have been called, at best, counterintuitive and, at worst, baldly racist.

A quick read reveals that they are counterintuitive; in fact they’re nonsense. Despite their steady dwindling, hate crimes and racial tension persist across the country. While these phenomena certainly don’t indicate any peculiar suppression or active organized racism, to make the claim that even the Democratic electorate actually prefers a black man to his Caucasian equivalent—Ferraro called Obama “lucky”—is to presume an epiphany of toleration among the people for whom ‘the Bradley Effect’ was conceived.

The slow, tortuous confrontation of racism has been called America’s great historic struggle. Even the institution of race-based hiring decisions—with their good intentions paving the way to hell as ever—forebodes a future still far removed from that nebulous multicultural promise of “color-blindness.”

There may be some logic to a small population of left-leaning voters elevating Obama as the ultimate American ideal, who conquered racial prejudiceand relative poverty by his own merits, and resisted the appeal of high-paying positions in law. The reality, though, is that Obama’s message appears to have the capacity to transcend racial bias where Alan Keyes or Al Sharpton’s have failed; he may just have a bit more of that Weberian charisma than Hillary Clinton. He certainly has more than Walter Mondale, next to whom John Kerry gains a sudden, electric appeal.

Ferraro, for her part, hasn’t backed down from her comments, but she has jumped ship as Clinton’s “Honorary New York Leadership Council Chair,” a position that, while sounding meaningless, had the congresswoman campaigning on Clinton’s behalf. That said, her letter of resignation has all the contrite grace of a Molotov cocktail hurled into one’s former workplace. She writes, “I am stepping down from your finance committee so I can speak for myself…The Obama campaign is attacking me to hurt you. I won’t let that happen.” So, having issued her blunt rhetorical assault, the closest thing Clinton has to a historical precedent can only bring herself to apologize for a political misstep—not a personal prejudice revealed.

Particularly disturbing is the revelation that the former feminist icon had said nearly the exact same thing about Jesse Jackson’s doomed 1988 run for the White House, back when her language couldn’t be chalked up to her bygone era or senility. This seems to cast a shadow on some of the past days’ saber-rattling, too—for example, Ferraro said yesterday, “I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white. How’s that?” In spite of all evidence to the contrary, she seems convinced that American voters are practicing affirmative action on their secret ballots.

When the Obama campaign attacks her, they certainly are trying to besmirch the Clintons’ (kind of) good name; such is the nature of bruising national politics. However, when we as unbiased political observers say that Geraldine Ferraro seems a hypocrite and a bigot in making these conspiratorial accusations about not one black politician, but all of them, we would appear to be justified by factual evidence. After all, these men confront the same sort of barrier to entry that she came upon two decades ago. One could argue that theirs is even higher.

We cannot help but feel the pangs of sadness as this bias becomes more and more clear. Ferraro, once labeled “something that rhymes with rich” (to quote Barbara Bush) did in courageous failure pave the way for this year’s historic primary. Now, older, off her game and embroiled in the vitriolic message warfare attached to that primary, she appears to have debased her own iconic legacy in an attempt to sully another—Obama’s—which is still being shaped.

James M. Larkin ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Quincy House.

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