Wednesday, March 12, 2008

geraldine, we hardly knew ye

Until the last several days, the name Geraldine Ferraro was, for the most part, a pleasant footnote in political history. The first woman to be a part of a major party ticket, she was plucked from obscurity by Walter Mondale and made his running mate in his disastrous campaign against Ronald Reagan in 1984. The congresswoman had previously not been a particularly spectacular legislator, and she faded into the woodwork fairly convincingly once the electoral debacle was over, seemingly content to return to the obscurity whence she had come. Still, her name had become synonymous with the hope that someday in this country we might finally be able to look past the absurd veneers of gender and even skin color to see the potential leader within. Geraldine Ferraro, by her own admission, had done little to deserve her place in history. ("If I have said it once, I have said it 20, 60, 100 times -- in 1984, if my name was Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would never have been the nominee for vice president," she recently said in an interview.) But she has it nonetheless.

It's been a lovely and secure place, her place in history. All she had to do was go about her business and attend to the jobs she was undertaking, and no matter how little else in the world she ever did, Geraldine Ferraro would always be fondly recalled as the woman who broke a major political barrier. But this week, Geraldine Ferraro apparently decided that knowing that one thing about her was not enough for the history books. Some insane notion whirred around in her head and declared that being a figure of historical significance was not cutting it anymore. Nope. And, though practically no one outside of Washington has even thought to wonder what has become of Geraldine Ferraro in the past two decades, she was apparently tired of the obscurity of being the elder stateswoman in a party that was passing her by.

Or maybe I'm giving her too much credit. Maybe she just shot her mouth off without thinking at all. Maybe there was no design whatsoever. It really doesn't matter. Whatever the reason, Geraldine Ferraro, acting as a financial volunteer with the Clinton campaign, started spouting an argument about the Obama candidacy to everyone who would listen. And since the press enjoys the jollity of interviewing has-been politicians who might just say something interesting, people did listen. And what she said was widely reported. And it was, sadly, a very ugly thing for someone in her position to be saying, or even thinking.

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

Now I happen to be an English teacher, so please indulge me while I take a moment to analyze that bit of prose. The first line, "If Obama was a white man," aside from being grammatically incorrect (ignoring the subjunctive mood), drops the race card front and center in bold lettering and then goes on to claim that it is the sole reason that Obama is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. "He would not be in this position" if he were white, she says. One assumes that he would be laboring in obscurity somewhere, doing something less interesting, like, say, whatever Geraldine Ferraro has been up to for the last twenty years. (She is a lawyer and a lobbyist. Before that, she was a Congresswoman. I remember all of the landmark legislation with her sponsoring name attached, taking advantage of the celebrity that came with that historical White House run. Don't you?)

OK, then, after belittling Obama as the candidate of color, the man who somehow has amassed 1600 delegates because, gee, he's black so let's give him a bunch, Ferraro goes on. "And if he was a woman, he would not be in this position." (Gosh darn subjunctive mood again.) Ah, apparently the argument has more facets than at first it seemed. Interesting...

"He happens to be very lucky to be who he is." Right. Because an African-American named Barack Hussein Obama, raised partly in Muslim Indonesia, is exactly the candidate that the majority of this country would have imagined had they been given a "build your perfect president" kit. Yup. All he had to do to gain the Presidency was show up.

"And the country is caught up in the concept." You know what? I'm going to have to agree with Congresswoman Ferraro on this one. The country is "caught up in the concept" of Barack Obama becoming President, but not because he is black. Oh, that might be a nice aspect of it, but other than the heavy percentages of black voters he rounds up at every stage of the race (just as Hillary finds that–goodness!–she attracts a lot of women voters) people are voting for him not because he is black but because he represents something they have not truly felt for a long time: hope. Of course, that's not what Ferraro meant: she meant that we have provided him with a mathematically insurmountable lead because of some Presidential racial quota system. (Apparently we've just figured out that one out of every 44 Presidents ought to be black.)

Ferraro claims that she meant nothing racist in her statements, but it's difficult to see any other way to interpret them, especially when you place them side by side with a similar statement that she made back in 1988 about another African-American candidate: “If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race." (Yes! She got the subjunctive down! Hmmm... Maybe she's lost some brain cells since '88...maybe she could blame the latest furor on that...) And when you place it all in context of other remarks that have been coming from the Clinton campaign–whether it has been the blatant racism of some of her supporters or her own "subtle" "as far as I know" response about his alleged Muslim background, there does appear to be a pattern that warrants the word I used in the beginning: ugly.

In class today I was introducing one of Sophocles' Theban Plays. In doing so, I explained the story of what occurred between Oedipus' fall and the start of Antigone. Two brothers both believed that they deserved to sit on the throne of Thebes once they came of age. They made the decision to do something completely radical for ancient Greece: job-share. Eteocles would get the first year as King, then step down and allow Polynices to become King for a year. They would rotate this way, each getting a year as King: the epitome of fairness. When they came of age, their Uncle Creon, who had been the Regent, relinquished leadership to Eteocles, who was crowned King, but as his year drew to a close he came to believe that it was not in Thebes' best interest to follow through on the agreement he had made with his brother. He felt that the stability of a single recognized ruler would be better, and (as King) he had the right to do whatever he chose. So he told his brother that the deal was off, and Polynices, naturally, was very upset. He accused his brother of doing this not to benefit Thebes, but to benefit Eteocles...and who is to say he was wrong?

Anyway, Eteocles was King and Polynices felt ripped off from his rightful position. He could have, in the interest of peace in the kingdom, supported his brother as a key adviser. Instead, he left Thebes, excoriating his brother as he went, traveled to far-off lands, raised a mercenary army, and came back to attack his brother and take by force what he felt he should have been given as his due. It no longer mattered to Polynices how he got the throne, or even what condition Thebes was in once he got it; all that mattered was that he defeated the man who had what he believed should have belonged to him.

The armies met and fought in a bloody war, and eventually the two brothers met face to face on the battlefield and killed each other, leaving a broken, bleeding city with grievous losses and no heir.

As I described this to my class today, I couldn't help thinking about the parallels between the Theban civil war and the Democratic primary race. As the Clinton campaign goes more and more negative, or allows others to do so on its behalf without challenge or denouncement, I can't help wondering what it is that they are hoping to accomplish. Like Polynices, they have no realistic hope at this point of achieving their goal without bringing down the entire party. By tearing at Obama every chance she gets, Hillary raises his negatives (the evidence is the opinion of her own supporters in exit polls taken in the Mississippi primary), arms John McCain with the most glorious sound bites a Republican candidate has ever had at his disposal, and rips ever wider the schism she has opened within a Democratic Party that was, for once, the party of optimism and hope and rebirth.

Before both Clinton and Obama lie broken and bleeding in the streets, the madness has to stop. Before Hillary Clinton joins Geraldine Ferraro as a ground-breaking female politician who ultimately showed herself to be petty and ugly and not at all the icon she hoped history to record, the madness has to stop. Before John McCain strolls into the third George Bush term over the decaying carcasses of hopes and dreams destroyed by politicians who could not see or would not allow themselves to see what they were doing until it is too late, the madness has to stop.

If we must continue this campaign, then do so with an eye toward the bigger picture: whoever wins (and it will be Obama, no matter what spin the Clinton folks attempt to put on things) has to face a fall election against the first moderate (no matter what he calls himself) Republican in ages, a man who is likable, even if he is completely and utterly wrong. It is imperative that the Democrat wins in November. What Hillary Clinton needs to start realizing is that it is not imperative who that Democrat is.


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it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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