For those of you who don't recall (or weren't born yet) in 1984 Democrats Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro challenged Republican incumbents President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush. It was unprecedented: a ticket with a woman. The nation was sort of flummoxed, and everyone was talking about it, a lot.
That was the year then Colorado Senator Gary Hart, former Vice President Walter Mondale and Illinois minister Jesse Jackson all ran for Democratic nominee. Hart lost after Mondale mockery of his new ideas, and Jackson lost because...well, we can all speculate why. History will probably attribute it to his bigoted remarks, largely about Jewish people. History is rarely completely wrong, but it also doesn't always tell the whole story.
Once Mondale secured the nomination, he selected Ferraro as his running mate, and the Woman Question took center stage, despite repeated efforts to make it about experience and qualifications.
Trivia Fact: Do you remember who else Mondale considered as a running mate? Two other women, including Dianne Feinstein. He also considered Henry Cisneros, from San Antonio, Texas, which was a big deal to my family since he was a good friend.
Reagan retained his office in a landslide win. It wasn't even close.
That's a long story, but since you asked me, I'll tell you I think it was the Woman Question and the Economics Question.
Again, you may not remember (or have been born yet) but I recall the 70s in vivid technicolor. I remember both energy crises (oh yes, we had the same energy crises back then, and what did we do? DRILL HERE DRILL NOW and release reserves---now how's that working as a long-term plan, my friends??). Who here remembers being assigned days you could get gas at gas stations because supply was so low? By license plate number. Who remembers that being a half a day to a day errand, sitting in the long lines, waiting for your turn at the pump, praying they didn't run out before you got there? Oh yeah, those were the days. 1979. Loads of fun.
And then what happened? Big recession. Terrible recession.
So Reagan came in and applied reaganomics. Then the US recovered and gained a robust economy. (Note: Just because those two sentences followed one another doesn't mean I buy that the first resulted in the second.) So in 1984 we were fat, happy, and feeling a little cocky with our strong economy.
Mondale was my favorite (big shockeroo) despite Reagan and his economic theory. I liked his attitude towards policies for women, and I really wanted him elected so that by the time I was adult there wouldn't be any question about the Equal Rights Amendment (which he promised to pass) and fair salaries. He also promised to end the Cold War and stop nuclear proliferation with a freeze. I was a big fan of that plan too, if for no other reason than I was tired of ruining the knees of my white linen pants in duck and cover drills. But also because, by God, I hoped the Russians loved their children too. (Okay so the 1984 election preceded that song, but the song nailed how many of us felt.)
We were also all feeling very patriotic after a successful Olympics. I was totally in love with Mitch Gaylord, that talented men's gymnast. Of course I loved him for his talent. I support athletes. That's why I went to the parade when the men's gymnastic team came to town and screamed myself hoarse. (Irrelevant note: I wore my favorite new outfit: pink, gray and white plaid Bermuda shorts, a pink short-sleeved cotton summer sweater with wide neck for slipping off the shoulder if one wanted, white sicks with pink and gray dots, and gray and pink loafers. Yes, I remember that outfit and day. Vividly.)
What we weren't feeling was kindly disposed to Mondale, his female running mate, and his liberal economic, diplomatic, and equality policies.
So he lost. By a lot. So back to the woman and money questions.
I think Mondale lost because he chose a female running mate. A lot of people pressured Ferraro to step aside, and in my memory she understandably got a little belligerant about it. That I respected. In my memory, one day, she said she would, if it helped the party. That crushed me. I had no idea what she went through but I could imagine, but I so wanted her to pave that way.
Also, I think he lost because he told the truth. He said taxes would have to go up. He said we'd have to make friends with the Russians. He said we had to reduce the deficit. He did not sing sunshine up voters' asses. He did not say what they wanted to hear (exclusively). He did say what he thought. He said what needed to be said. And it cost him the election.
In 1988, the Democrats weren't even contenders against George Bush, especially after Gary Hart's sex scandal, and the sometimes incomprehensible Dukakis won the nomination. I could vote by 1988---a Democrat even back then---and even I had to swallow hard to cast that ballot.
Trivia Fact: Who remembers Bill Clinton at the Convention? Luckily, he learned brevity is the soul of wit. To some degree. Who remembers Ann Richards at the Convention? "Silver foot in the mouth," she called Bush. I adored Ann Richards. Adored her. Who remembers that Dukakis thought to correct Mondale's error and selected Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate? He thought to appeal to the Southern male vote, and Bentsen wasn't some "liberal New Englander" a phrase that strikes me as a little oxymoronic to some degree. Who remembers Jesse Jackson, once again running, and his ire over being passed up for VP? Oh Jesse.
Sidebar: I was on the school newspaper in 1984 (I know! another shockeroo!)...and we ran a poll of how our classmates would vote. If you're curious, here are the results:
Note: Keep in mind kids often vote as their parents do. So...
430 students responded to the survey
82% selected Reagan/Bush
15% selected Mondale/Ferraro
And yet, 50.7% did not consider themselves loyal to any particular party. 40.7% declared themselves Republican, and 8.6% declared themselves Democrats.
Then came the wildcard...if you could vote for anyone...? 5% of the vote went to Van Halen and 2% to Ozzy Osbourne.
So what can we take from the election of 1984 and what has come since then? Weigh in. Do you think we've made much progress--enough progress? How do you think the racial and gender factors in 1984 replayed out in 2008?
At least tell me where you were in 1984 (even if it was "twinkle in Mom and Dad's eyes).
What's not to love? All American guy, Olympic gold medalist, reputed nice guy...and...
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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