To observe Democrats this week, savaging one of their heroines, is to understand why the party is unready to rule.
Consider: At the 1984 Democratic convention in San Francisco, an unknown member of Congress was vaulted into history by being chosen the first woman ever to run on a national party ticket.
Geraldine Ferraro became a household name. And though the Mondale-Ferraro ticket went down to a 49-state defeat, "Gerry" became an icon to Democratic women.
This week, however, after being subjected for 48 hours to accusations of divisiveness by Barack Obama, and racism by his agents and auxiliaries in the media, Ferraro resigned from Clinton’s campaign. What had she said to send the Obamaites into paroxysms of rage?
She stated an obvious truth: Had Barack not been a black male, he probably would not be the front-runner for the nomination.
Here are the words that sent her to the scaffold.
"If Obama was a white man he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up with the concept."
Note that Ferraro did not say race was the only reason Barack was succeeding. She simply said that being an African-American has been as indispensable to his success as her being a woman was to her success in 1984. Had my name been "Gerald" rather than Geraldine, I would not have been on the ’84 ticket, Ferraro conceded.
In calling her comments racist, Barack’s retinue is asserting that his race has nothing to do with his success, even implying that it is racist to suggest it. This is preposterous.
What Geraldine Ferraro said is palpably true, and everyone knows it.
Was the fact that Barack is black irrelevant to the party’s decision to give a state senator the keynote address at the 2004 convention? Did Barack’s being African-American have nothing to do with his running up 91 percent of the black vote in Mississippi on Tuesday?
Did Barack’s being black have nothing to do with the decision of civil rights legend John Lewis to dump Hillary and endorse him, though Lewis talks of how his constituents do not want to lose this first great opportunity to have an African-American president?
Can political analysts explain why Barack will sweep Philly in the Pennsylvania primary, though Hillary has the backing of the African-American mayor and Gov. Ed Rendell, without referring to Barack’s ethnic appeal to black voters?
What else explains why the mainstream media are going so ga-ga over Obama they are being satirized on "Saturday Night Live"?
Barack Obama has a chance of being the first black president. And holding out that special hope has been crucial to his candidacy. To deny this is self-delusion — or deceit.
Nor is this unusual. John F. Kennedy would not have gotten 78 percent of the Catholic vote had he not been Catholic. Hillary would not have rolled up those margins among white women in New Hampshire had she not been a sister in trouble. Mitt Romney would not have swept Utah and flamed out in Dixie were he not a Mormon. Mike Huckabee would not have marched triumphantly through the Bible Belt were he not a Baptist preacher and evangelical Christian. All politics is tribal.
The first campaign this writer ever covered was the New York mayoral race of 1961. Republicans stitched together the legendary ticket of Lefkowitz, Fino and Gilhooley, to touch three ethnic bases. Folks laughed. No one would have professed moral outrage had anyone suggested they were appealing to, or even pandering to, the Jewish, Italian and Irish voters of New York. People were more honest then.
Obama’s agents suggest that Ferraro deliberately injected race into the campaign. But this, too, is ridiculous. Her quote came in an interview with the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif., not "Meet the Press."
The attack on Ferraro comes out of a conscious strategy of the Obama campaign — to seek immunity from attack by smearing any and all attackers as having racist motives. When Bill Clinton dismissed Obama’s claim to have been consistently antiwar as a "fairy tale," and twinned Obama’s victory in South Carolina with Jesse Jackson’s, his statements were described as tinged with racism.
Early this week, Harvard Professor Orlando Patterson’s sensitive nostrils sniffed out racism in Hillary’s Red Phone ad, as there were no blacks in it. Patterson said it reminded him of D.W. Griffith’s pro-KKK "Birth of a Nation," a 1915 film.
What Barack’s allies seem to be demanding is immunity, a special exemption from political attack, because he is African-American. And those who go after him are to be brought up on charges of racism, as has Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell and now Geraldine Ferraro.
Hillary, hoping to appease Barack’s constituency, is ceding the point. Will the Republican Party and the right do the same? Play by Obama rules, and you lose to Obama.