On the back deck of a rented cottage overlooking Lake Tahoe, Geraldine Ferraro looked totally at ease as she talked with NEWSWEEK about her selection as Walter Mondale's running mate, her political philosophy and the campaign ahead. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How are you taking all this? How do you keep your perspective?
FERRARO: Well, I have a job to do -- and the job is beating Ronald Reagan in November -- so I've got a lot of work ahead of me, and I know what I have to do in order to prepare to do the job well. . . I mean, when you are talking about this for several months ahead of time . . . you have to anticipate what would happen if you were chosen, so I knew what I would be involved in if I were chosen.
Q. Some recent polls show that the Southerners and older men have some problems with you. Why do you think they are reluctant to vote for you?
A. Oh, there are people who are straight (Republican) party people who would consider it a sin to vote for a Democrat in my district . . . I think others are people who are extremely conservative and don't share my views on the issues, whether it's war, peace or the economy or whatever.
Q. How do you change that view, male and female?
A. I have to tell you something. If we win 73 percent of the vote in the country (as she has in her own district), I'm willing to give up the 27 percent. We are going to get people who share our views.
Q. You've talked a lot about family values. Do you worry about being stereotyped in a "woman's role"?
A. You've heard Mario Cuomo? You know, Mario talks family, too, which is very important today. It's more than my family, which is very important to me -- it's community, neighborhood. This country is a family, for goodness' sakes.
Q. The critics argue that you can't be for the family and support the political position you do on abortion at the same time.
A. I don't agree with them. To say you are for the family and support the budget priorities that they do . . . that's an inherent contradiction, too. You are saying you are for the family but won't support day care and won't support nutrition programs for pregnant women and won't support health services for the elderly because it costs money. How is that fair?
Q. How do you separate your own values on abortion from your political views?
A.I could never have an abortion, but I think you have to distinguish between imposing your religious beliefs on someone else and between setting forth priorities for yourself, and I think that there's a difference between the two. Q. Phyllis Schlafly called you a "radical feminist." How do you respond? A. Schlafly believes that "radical feminist" is all one word. She does not know what a feminist is. A feminist is one who cares about where women are in this economy.
Q. You've said that Ronald Reagan was not a good Christian . . .
A. No, I said his policies . . . were not. Take a look at his budget priorities. Remember, I studied the Baltimore Catechism, which taught me the basic tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition, (one of) which is that you have an obligation to care for those less fortunate than you. That's what I'm talking about.
Q. This may be a rough campaign.
A. Hey, listen, this is not the first time I've run a campaign. In 1978 my district was very, very conservative. People came at me and attacked me personally. You know when you are going into a campaign that's a possibility.
Q. When you get into the debates with George Bush and you say you are going to attack him . . .
A. He's going to have a tough time.
Q. What are his weaknesses?
A. His president's record.
Q. Some of the polls reflect concern over your ability to have your finger on the button and world security in your hands.
A. I can't imagine that it's me individually . . . I'm sure when you talk about a woman running for vice president, everybody kind of gives opinions and nobody really knows what to expect. I don't know how much I would rely upon those polls.
Q. Let's talk about government spending. What about social security?
A. We curtailed it to save the system. (Now) the system's in good shape (and) we have to address the problems of Medicare. . . .
Q. In the platform there was a foreign-policy fight about the Persian Gulf. What circumstances do you think would warrant A merican use of ground forces in the area?
A. I think you have to leave that discretion to the president to make that determination. . . . The Persian Gulf is more than oil supplies. You have a concern over what would happen if Iran were to fall, or what would happen with Soviet expansion. On the other hand, iflraq would fall, what would happen with the expansion of a fundamentalist group as exists in Iran? You know, lots of considerations. What is the best interest of the United States? . . . What is the danger to our allies? What are their national interests that are at stake?
Q. So you don't yet know what specific circumstances would force you, if you were president, to put troops in there.
A. That's right . . . I haven't really sat down and gone through these issues in great detail with the Mondale people.
Q. What do you do if you lose?
A. I'll probably look for a job in January with a law firm in Manhattan or in Queens. Then I might do a few polls for the United States Senate seat in New York.