The Women’s Room
Biden’s address was historic, but Geraldine Ferraro will always be the [wo]man, in my book
Much has been made of President Biden’s Wednesday address to a joint session of Congress. The audience featured about 200 people, spaced apart because of COVID-19 protocols; some sitting on the floor of the House of Representatives, some in the gallery — a balcony overlooking the chamber. One person represented the military, one the Supreme Court. Instead of all of the Cabinet members crammed into the venue, only the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense attended.
And, no, you didn’t have to adjust your set — two powerful women loomed large in history on the Speaker’s Rostrum behind the president. Vice President Kamala Harris sat on the left of your screen; Speaker Nancy Pelosi to your right. If you’re keeping track, these women are next — Harris as Number 2, Pelosi as Number 3 — in the presidential line of succession.
I can hear some of you smart asses now—was that the podium the January 6 Insurrectionists purloined and carried around the U.S. Capitol for a time during the melee? No, that one is much smaller — yet listed at a value of $1,000. And as of press time, it’s unclear if that particular piece of political furniture was ever listed on eBay.
But back to history in the making. Harris and Pelosi were indeed the first female elected officials to preside over a president’s address to Congress. Something was different for me, though. I didn’t really have that tingling-all-over sensation watching them break the proverbial glass ceiling.
That honor — in my life — belonged to Representative Geraldine Ferraro, D-N.Y.
The year was 1984; the month was July, in that City by the Bay, San Francisco. I was but a baby scribe, but not detailed to the Democratic National Convention. I took a few vacay days, and tagged along with Moker, who covered the festivities for our North Texas rag.
It was a week of “firsts”. My first trip to SFO; I was beyond thrilled not to be working the convention, and instead doing the tourist thing around the city, and then some. And because San Fran is on Pacific Standard Time, Moker and all of my other reporter friends had to file their stories early to meet their deadlines. Hence, I was available every evening for a leisurely dinner at one of the city’s famed eateries. North Beach. Pacific Heights. The Ferry Building. The Sunset District. Et cetera, et cetera; you get my drift. Yes, more than a few Thof my meals were comped.
I ran into so many famous folks: Sat in on a “Today” Show taping with Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel — yeah, before Matt Lauer creeped us all out and forever besmirched the names of men in high places; gave directions to the convention goings-on to rocker Stephen Stills and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. And speaking of glass ceilings, sat behind then-NBC correspondent Connie Chung on the floor of the Moscone Center the afternoon of The Big Reveal.
Yeah, I’d been trained to be a dispassionate observer. But I sure had stars in my eyes that week. In fact, a whole galaxy.
Then, Gerry Ferraro stood up to accept the nomination to be Vice President of the United States. And I didn’t know what to do with myself.
So I did a little bit of everything. I laughed. I cried. I shivered — with both delight at presidential nominee Walter Mondale’s pick, and because the convention center’s AC was turned down to about iceberg level. I whooped and hollered. I even think I prayed a little — first that I wouldn’t dump my Diet Coke (yup — I was one of those people, once upon a time) in Connie Chung’s lap, and later, hoping my shots of Congresswoman Ferraro would come out — no digital, only film, way back in the day. And I snapped a couple of cool ones, including of Ms. Chung interviewing a delegate, with my gal Gerry looming large over the auditorium on what at that time passed for a Jumbotron. And of course, I know I have those pics somewhere — it’s just a matter of routing them out after our big move last fall.
Tech has come a long way since 1984, but I wouldn’t change that retro ’80s moment for anything. I was young, I was relatively naive, and I still thought my generation could change the world. And I was a woman — to misappropriate a quintessential line from singer Helen Reddy, I could hear us roar.
What’s happened since then? Mondale and Ferraro lost in an historic landslide. Fritz and Gerry only garnered 13 electoral votes, from his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia. The Dems didn’t even win Massachusetts that year, which is a pretty sad state of affairs when you consider Democratic politics — Don’t they always win Massachusetts?
After that, politics continued its precarious dance with the American electorate — always one step forward, then two steps back, it seems. John McCain brought Sarah Palin along for a wild ride in 2008. Can you see Russia from your house? She can, according to SNL. Hillary Clinton tried to make a go of it in 2016, and who knows? If it hadn’t been for Russian meddling, I’m sure we wouldn’t have suffered as much as we did under the former guy.
But I’ll always remember how over the dang moon I was on July 19, 1984 — when the Democrats nominated Geraldine Ferraro to be Vice President of the United States of America, and I thought we were gonna change the world.