Most obituaries of Geraldine Ferraro this weekend recounted a key moment in her political career: her vice presidential debate against George H.W. Bush.
Writing on TheAtlantic.com blog, Ben W. Heineman Jr. recalls the question on everyone’s mind:
How would she, a three-term member of Congress, stand up against the man who had been ambassador to China and the U.N, headed the CIA, and for the previous four years served as vice president of the United States?
The only one not worried was the Democratic vice presidential candidate herself. She soon impressed her boss — Walter Mondale — and his staff with her preparation work.
Part of that preparation was guided by Anne Wexler. Two decades earlier she’d been a member of Westport’s Zoning Board of Appeals. But she was galvanized by Vietnam, and quickly became a powerful figure in national politics.
In 1972 she was a driving force in changing rules that opened the Democratic party to its current primary system. Later she became a senior advisor to President Carter.
By 1984 she was a highly respected political consultant. That’s when the Mondale campaign asked her to help Ferraro get ready for the vice presidential debate: a crucial test on the national stage.
According to Heineman, “Ferraro’s self-confidence was well-founded. With poise, humor and substance, she went toe-to-toe with the vice president for 90 minutes.”
Afterwards, instant polls showed the debate a draw, and that was the view of many other commentators. But a draw for a three-term congresswoman against someone with Bush’s vaunted resume…..
The most famous line of the debate, of course, was Geraldine Ferraro’s. The vice president began an answer by saying: “Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon.”
To which the first woman national candidate in American history replied: “Let me first of all say that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.” This was the debate clip shown the day after — and to this day.
After the debate was over, Vice President Bush remarked into a still open mic that he had “kicked a little ass.” Given the expectations before the debate, I felt, along with so many others, that it was actually the other way round.
And it was another powerful woman — Westport’s Anne Wexler — who helped deliver that kick.