Geraldine Ferraro didn’t have a snowball’s chance of becoming vice president of the United States in 1984.
Ronald Reagan, one of the most popular presidents in the history of this republic, was simply not beatable. And he certainly was not beatable in the mid-1980s by a proudly liberal challenger like Walter Mondale, whose campaign promises included a vow to push Congress for higher taxes.
So even the most naively optimistic Democrats must have known Mondale’s choice of a relatively unknown New York congresswoman as his running mate was in large part a symbolic political statement. Neither the statement nor the symbolism translated into votes, and the subsequent trouncing was even more devastating than expected: Reagan won the most lopsided presidential election since FDR’s re-election throttling of Alf Landon in 1936.
But some events are historic even if they are momentarily covered in the rubble of political landslides. And some statements are right even if voters conclude that the wrong people are making them.
Geraldine Ferraro, who died of blood cancer Saturday morning at 75, stood before cheering crowds at the Democratic National Convention in 1984 as the first-ever woman vice presidential nominee on a major party ticket and told the country that “America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us.” It’s a theme the standard-bearer of another historic ticket would echo on an election night 24 years later, when President-elect Barack Obama told his fellow Americans that ours is a land “where all things are possible.”
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