A Conversation With Geraldine Ferraro (Jul-Oct 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Fred Peatross
July – October, 2008

Geraldine Anne Ferraro is best known as the first and, so far, only woman to be a candidate for Vice President of the United States on a major party ticket. She and fellow Democrat Walter Mondale were defeated in a landslide by the re-election campaign of President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George H. W. Bush in the 1984 election.

In 1986, she passed up the opportunity to challenge Alphonse D’Amato, the Republican senator from New York. In 1990 Ferraro campaigned aggressively on behalf of female Democratic candidates in New York. She launched her own political comeback in 1992, when she entered the New York Democratic primary as a candidate for the United States Senate. Competing against three other candidates in the primary, Ferraro faced a tough battle and wound up finishing second, fewer than ten thousand votes behind Bob Abrams.

In 1993, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to represent the United States as Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. She served with the rank of ambassador and handled social issues during her time at the U.N.

From 1996–1998 Ferraro was co-host on Crossfire, a political commentary show on the cable television network CNN. She continues to provide political commentary as a frequent guest on national television news programs and is a highly sought-after lecturer, teacher, author, and policy expert.

In 1998, Geraldine Ferraro was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the bone marrow affecting plasma cells. She has since received cutting edge care from Dr. Ken Anderson, director of the Multiple Myeloma Center at Dana Farber. Now in remission, Geraldine Ferraro is Of Counsel to national law firm Blank Rome, LLP, as well as a Principal of Blank Rome LLC – the firms Government Relations arm – and is busy raising funds and lobbying for myeloma research.

This interview took place July 7, 2008.

At the CrossroadsFred Peatross: How important do you think the upcoming presidential election is to the future of America? It seems to me we’re at a crossroads here.

Geraldine Ferraro: You know, I think every election is most important, and when you have a war going on that we want to end, and when you have a crisis on health care – I think every election is important. Who you put in the White House really makes a difference, and I think that with George Bush being the kind of president he has for eight years and has had some problems with both the economy and the health care system; with Iraq, with Afghanistan; it’s certainly indicative of how important who-you-put-in-the-White-House is.

Now, if you take a look at these two individuals running, there are things to be said for both of them. I recall that, in 1980, I thought that was probably the most important election that this country had faced in God-knows-how-long, and I was terrified that Ronald Reagan was going to get us into a nuclear war. I was wrong.

Thank God, I was wrong. But I remember it’s the only election I’ve ever cried at. And I cried because I didn’t think we had a future.

Fred Peatross: That’s interesting.

Geraldine Ferraro: So it’s kind of hard to say, is this the most important election? It’s really how you view things. I had lunch with a judge today who, for her, the issue of greatest importance is the Supreme Court. But she added, of course, we’ve already got a conservative Supreme Court, and it’s going to be there for quite a while. She was trying to figure out what to do in her own head, and that was the issue; so I don’t know if I can quantify this as the most important election. It certainly is an important election, and the issues are most important to the people of this country.

Fred Peatross: A couple of months ago, people were asking you why there is so much excitement about Barack Obama, and I really think your thoughts got sidelined, because of the racist accusation made against you.

Geraldine Ferraro: I don’t mind talking about it. It was March, a couple of days before I gave a speech on March 9. I was reflecting on what was actually happening at the polls. When you have an African-American population in this country turning out in huge numbers and voting for a candidate 90 to 92 percent—when supposedly President Clinton was our first “black” president—you sit there in awe and say to yourself, “My God, what caused that to happen?” And it was because Obama is black. It certainly wasn’t because he had a white mother, but because he is black.

He’s a person who has already seen that; who has in fact done an interview with the Chicago Tribune in June of 2005—a lengthy interview, and I’m just extrapolating one little piece of it that pertained to this exact issue—and he was asked how he felt about being in the Senate, and he said “If I were white, I would be one of nine junior senators, if I would be here at all.” And he went on and on, referring to the fact that if he were white he possibly would not have been in the Senate and wouldn’t have been getting the attention he had. And that’s exactly what I said: he wouldn’t have been getting the attention he had, and the support. Personally, the strength of the black community—I give them full credit for it—I think it’s great. When you see black women in large numbers turning away from Hillary (Clinton), I mean, it’s astounding. And it wasn’t because she was a woman and they didn’t like her; it was because he is black and they felt very strongly about the issue. That’s not a negative!

Fred Peatross: No, it’s not; I agree with you.

Geraldine Ferraro: There are people who have stopped me and said, “You were absolutely right.” Unfortunately, the negative part of it is that many people said because you’re white, you can’t speak up. That has been a backlash that the campaign never anticipated and I think they’re having a problem with it right now.

Fred Peatross: What are your thoughts on Barack Obama becoming a centrist? Do you believe that? That’s what the media is saying.

Geraldine Ferraro: I don’t really know Barack Obama. I’ve never met him, never spoken to him, don’t know anything at all about him other than what I’ve seen on television. I give speeches all the time; if you go back to June-July of last year you’ll find me saying “We have an embarrassment of riches in the Democratic Party, whereas the Republicans only have embarrassment;” that’s my sense of humor. I looked at the guys who were in there and Hillary, and who did we have? I looked at Joe Biden. I had served with him. I looked at Chris Dodd; I had served with him – an incredible senator, a wonderful leader and knows the issues. I looked at Bill Richardson; I had served with him in the House, at the United Nations I had seen him at the international level; I knew what he was capable of doing. And Hillary has been my friend for many years, but in addition to that she has been my senator for eight. Those are the four people that I looked at. John Edwards had run for vice president, but I had not really considered him at the same level of experience that they had. Barack Obama had been a state senator, so I didn’t consider him at all. I used to speak very highly of Edwards and Obama, but if you were asking about my individual choice, they were not there.

One time I was asked by a woman “How can you dismiss Kucinich?” —because I did dismiss Kucinich’s candidacy—but the other two I would put right up there when I was speaking. I would look at those four, though, and think that any one of them would make a great president of the United States.

Hillary, as a woman, I had seen her at the international level; I had seen how women reacted to her; I had seen her leadership on issues of social and women’s concern. I had five granddaughters, and I thought, “How do I not?” since I’ve talked about the importance of women in leadership, and I this was an opportunity to get a woman in there who could make a difference. So I considered her as equal to the three guys that I thought were ready to be president.

Fred Peatross: It sounds like you were a little bit surprised at the way this all turned out.

Geraldine Ferraro: I’m a politician. I’m not terribly surprised. I’m surprised at how well David Axelrod managed the (Obama) campaign. What I’m waiting for now is to find out precisely where Barack Obama is. Hope and inspiration are not enough for me. My daughter said, “He inspires me,” and I said, “To do what? You know, tell me what he inspires you to do.” She’s a doctor with three kids, and she was kind of at a loss for words. We have too many problems. I’m delighted that he’s going to Iraq to refine his policies, but wouldn’t it have been nice if he had had a policy before he ran for president, and articulated one?

When you say “centrist” —he’s taken positions which I assumed he’s believed in, positions which worked well in the first part of the campaign, in the primaries. Now he’s got to take a look at them, because experience is going to be the issue. People are going to look at that and say, “Are you ready to handle this?”

Fred Peatross: A statement from one of your speeches years ago: “To those who have watched this administration’s confusion in the Middle East as it has tilted first one way and then toward another of Israel’s long-time enemies and wondered: ‘Will America stand by her friends and insist on democracy?’: we say America knows her friends in the Middle East and around the world. America will stand with Israel always.” What are your thoughts today about that?

Geraldine Ferraro: I still feel the same. I’ve visited that area of the world several times. I took two trips while I served, one to Central America in the middle of the contra situation there; one in ’83 to Israel. I paid for it myself. I wanted my family to see it. I wanted for me to know what was going on. We met with virtually every single person who was in a position of power in the Israeli government. We went to the Golan Heights, where the buried explosives had been planted. We had long conversations about their security.

By the way, as a Catholic, I totally enjoy just doing all those things I had read about as a kid in catechism . . . the Sea of Galilee . . . we did everything. Believe it or not, it was at Easter; Easter and Passover that year fell together. A monk took us to an upper room like the one where the Last Supper took place. I asked him, “Father, could you tell me why there were no women at the Last Supper?” My husband said, “Could you leave this poor man alone?” I had a great religious experience; the kids had a great vacation and learned some things. I also learned.

We were there when there were shots fired, and the gates had to be pulled down in the Arab section; we got to see what was happening. We were helicoptered out to a carrier and then taken to Beirut, because you could not go to Beirut from Israel at the time, and we visited the refugee camps. We talked to the women and people who were there. We came back with a tremendous amount of information. But the main thing we came back with was this: Israel is a very small nation, in the middle of a very hostile situation—and it hasn’t changed in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years.

Any effort that our government takes to make things better for the state of Israel I would continue to support because it’s not just for the state of Israel; it’s also good for our security. They really are reliable partners there.

How do you deal with it now? Many people thought—many within the Jewish community, such as Joe Lieberman—that taking out Saddam Hussein was a good idea. I’d have to say Hussein was the dumbest person in the world for pretending to have weapons of mass destruction that he didn’t have. What he was lobbing into Israel were SCUD missiles. Iran, on the other hand, is serious. So, yes, I still feel very strongly that we should stand by Israel.

Fred Peatross: Should anyone at all lean to John McCain because of that?

Geraldine Ferraro: Some of the things he’s saying are not things that I agree with. But it would certainly make me look very closely at his experience. This is not all black and white. I’m delighted that Obama’s going over there. He’s got to go and see what’s going on; speak to the leaders. He has a short window of opportunity. It’s July already, and the election is four months away.

If somebody learns something, becomes better educated about something, it’s not the end of the world for them to move (on a position originally taken), as long as I haven’t relied upon it and that position is so averse to what I originally thought.

I’m not happy with this public financing thing – and I’m not happy for several reasons – that’s a position where there’s no real reason why you would do it, other than the politics of it.

Fred Peatross: Some of that’s a refining of position on the basis of knowledge.

Geraldine Ferraro: When John Kerry said, “I voted for it before I voted against it,” they all made a big thing out of that. Legislators know better. You can vote for something, and it comes back after being in conference or committee—or you get new information—and sometimes it isn’t the same thing. When they tried to add an anti-abortion rider to the Equal Rights Amendment, we pulled it. That’s not what we wanted; it was diluting the constitutional amendment for an ideological viewpoint; a religious, spiritual viewpoint.

It doesn’t bother me if someone learns something that changes, refines their position . . . it does bother me if it’s a political thing.

Fred Peatross: Sometimes the media makes it all look like a political thing.

Geraldine Ferraro: Sometimes it is!

Fred Peatross: And that makes it all the harder for the public to distinguish between principle and the politics that play into it. Would you agree with that?

Geraldine Ferraro: If you’ll forgive me—I don’t think the public has as refined a taste for what goes on. Tell me how much the public pays attention to presidential elections. After Labor Day, people start focusing. They’re going to get bombarded with information—the best message the candidates can buy. Whether or not it’s always truthful.

That, from someone who lost a Senate race because of the bombardment in the last week of negative advertising. There’s not much you can do about it, you know?New Wineskins

You can hear the entire interview by downloading this MP3.

You can start or join a thread about this article in the discussion forums for this issue, At the Intersection of Church and State.

Fred PeatrossFred Peatross lives, works, romances his wife and exudes deep feelings of love, awe, and admiration for his Creator while living in the heart of Appalachia. For over two decades Fred has resided in Huntington, West Virginia where he has been a leader in the traditional church. He has been a deacon, a shepherd, and a pulpit minister. But his greatest love is Missio Dei.

Long before thousands of missionaries poured into the former Soviet Union Fred, in a combined effort with a Christ follower from Alabama planted a church in Dneprodzerhinsk, Ukraine. Today Fred lives as a missionary to America daily praying behind the back of his friends as he journeys and explores life alongside them. [Fred Peatross’ book Missio Dei - In the Crisis of ChristianityMissio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity, reviewed in New Wineskins]. He blogs at [Abductive Columns].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1579 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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