Ferraro's Out

A campaign blog.
March 12 2008 7:17 PM

Ferraro's Out

If there’s a lesson to be learned from Geraldine Ferraro’s fast-motion disintegration, it’s gotta be: Don’t fight it.

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After her initial slip-up —Ferraro said that Obama was a successful candidate only because he’s black—she could have apologized and walked away. As a member of the fundraising committee, she didn’t rank particularly high on Clinton’s staff list. Instead, she decided to double down. She called back the Daily Breeze , the paper in which her comments first appeared, and accused the Obama campaign of "attacking me because I’m white." In other words, she played what Ben Smith calls the race card card. That move ratcheted up the rhetoric another notch, all but guaranteeing her demise.

At the bottom of Ferraro’s rants, she had a kernel of a point: This election, like all elections, is largely about identity. As she herself acknowledged, "[I]n 1984, if my name was Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would never have been the nominee for vice president." But what then? Was she suggesting that Obama should "admit" that his race is a factor in his candidacy? If so, that’s a losing battle. Should John Edwards then have admitted he was getting some votes because he was a white male?

Ferraro prided herself on not taking orders from the Clinton campaign, but this time she should have listened. In a mere two days, she managed to resurrect the subject of race—relatively dormant since South Carolina*—and give the Obama campaign reason to take offense . It also let them twist the Clinton campaign’s logic about Samantha Power’s "monster" remarks. If Clinton hadn’t demanded Power’s resignation, Ferraro might still have a job on the campaign. Howard Wolfson’s rebuttal—that Ferraro wasn’t as big a part of Clinton’s campaign as Power was for Obama—held water at first. But once Ferraro lashed out again, it was over.

In an ideal world, neither Power nor Ferraro would have had to resign. But the logic that both campaigns have imposed on the race that wanton ( Update 1:47 a.m.: Sorry, not " wonton .") surrogates have to go made Ferraro's demise inevitable.

*Correction: We originally said North Carolina. That would be impossible, seeing as North Carolina hasn't voted yet.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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