Sarah Palin and Geraldine Ferraro—How Times Have Changed

The media should be respectful but aggressive with Palin, as they were with Ferraro 24 years ago.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton and Gov. Sarah Palin are hardly the first women to try to break the glass ceiling in presidential politics. They are preceded by former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York, Walter Mondale's running mate on the 1984 Democratic ticket. The Mondale managers did not demand then that the media treat her with "deference" as the McCain campaign demands for Palin. The press didn't then and shouldn't now.

Women among the party faithful were enthused about Ferraro. She had a lengthy record in the House of Representatives and was a favorite of Speaker Tip O'Neill. Still, her pick was something of a surprise when the Democrats were meeting in San Francisco that summer at their nominating convention.

Within days, Ferraro came under fire for the real estate dealings of her husband. She held a press conference before a horde of combative reporters. She said she would not release her husband's tax returns but later relented. (We await the complete tax returns of Palin and her husband, not to mention those of Cindy McCain.)

Rather than be intimidated by John McCain's campaign advisers and be deferential, the media should burrow into Palin's background and her qualifications for high office. Palin's record in public office should be as open as Ferraro's was 24 years ago—and the examination should be as thorough.

People wonder how Joe Biden will handle facing off in a debate against Palin—whether he'll be perceived as too tough on a woman. I was a panelist for Ferraro's debate against then Vice President George H. W. Bush. Their encounter was probably a draw—both of them stayed on message and scored points. A tense moment came when Ferraro scolded Bush, telling him that she resented his "patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy."

Bush didn't see the debate as a close call. Leaving the city the next day, he told some longshoremen that he "tried to kick a little ass last night." The Mondale campaign reacted forcefully to the remark by Bush, who must have missed the open microphone. If either Barack Obama or Joe Biden made that offensive statement today, the Republican campaign would create a bigger firestorm, which would be amplified by the cable TV/Internet/talk radio echo chamber.

Such is the nature of the campaign so far. McCain even saw fit to criticize Obama on his "lipstick on a pig" comparison as an example of negative politics today. McCain must not be watching his own TV ads, which take negativity to a new level.

Barbara Bush, Bush's wife, got into the act later by referring to Ferraro as a "$4 million dollar—I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich." She apologized for the remark but apparently forgot that she and her husband were from a wealthy patrician family with residences in Texas and Maine.

The McCain camp says the Democrats are being "disrespectful" of Palin. Perhaps they can characterize what their side felt about the slashes by the Bushes at Ferraro—worse than disrespectful in my book.

The point here is that the McCain-Palin ticket has attempted to cower the press with a stern pre-emptive warning. They then proceeded to make a silly charge that Obama's reference to the cliché "lipstick on a pig" was aimed at Palin. Politicians of both parties have used that remark for years to challenge an opponent on an issue.

At the GOP convention in St. Paul, Steve Schmidt, McCain's Karl Rove-trained campaign manager, accused the press of trying to "destroy" Palin. Rove must have been proud of his young disciple for that transparent tactic.

Palin should be treated with respect, as should the other three major party candidates for president and vice president. But deference? Absolutely not.

Sarah Palin is running for vice president, not queen, of the United States.