Questions & Answers: Geraldine Ferraro

Geraldine Ferraro at Women's Rally in July, 1992 in New York John A. Giordano / Corbis-Saba

Geraldine Ferraro may have lost the Vice Presidential race in 1984, but she's still plenty interested in the politics of Campaign 2000. On the eve of the election, NEWSWEEK's B. J. Sigesmund asked Ferraro to take a few steps back and objectively address Al Gore and George W. Bush's strengths and weaknesses -- plus the highs and lows of each of their runs. She remained impartial throughout the conversation -- at least for a while.

Can you talk about the different strategies the two candidates have employed?

John Hassell: I think Bush's strategy to deflect the discussion away from his inexperience and his surprising lack of knowledge, to a discussion of leadership, was very smart .... It was almost an evangelical pitch on honor and integrity. When I was watching him yesterday, I was going crazy because he almost sounds like a preacher on Sunday mornings on the local news station. Because if you take a look at where he stands on the issues, he sounds as if he has a great breadth of knowledge. But it's as slim as it is wide. I think if you ever plow beneath the surface of anything he's talking about, you'll see that there's no there there.

Gore's strategy [seemed to be to] distance himself from Clinton on a personal level, while still taking credit for the leadership over the past eight years that has brought us this wonderful economy. I think it also has been very good.

Talk about the Vice Presidential selections.

I think that both these guys chose vice presidential candidates to fulfill their individual strategies. George W. Bush knew that he had a major hole in his resume. And so he had to pick Dick Cheney, who has the experience in Washington, who knows not only that there are two houses of the Congress, but also knows how to work with them. Who knows that compromise is the way you get things done. And who knows that no matter what Bush is talking about with this huge tax cut, and all the other wonderful grandiose plans that he has, it's going to go nowhere unless you know how to deal with the people in Washington. And Dick Cheney really fulfills that. You saw that in the vice presidential debates.

Joe Lieberman fills a hole in Al Gore's background with his resume. That was a hole that was punched into it by Bill Clinton. What Lieberman has succeeded in doing is separating Gore from a third term Clinton-Gore, which is what the Republicans tried to paint it as at their convention. He has totally separated it out, so that his presence on the ticket makes it a Gore-Lieberman ticket. And by the way, Al Gore is a very moral person, but that's not the impression people have because of the Clinton-Gore thing, the Clinton situation over the past few years. [The Lieberman choice] makes the Gore-Lieberman ticket about the future and makes it a ticket that's not subject to the taints of Clinton's personal problem.

I think both saw what their weakness was and they both addressed it.

It would have been nice to see a female candidate...

At times, I'm disappointed that a woman isn't on the ticket. Obviously, I would love to have seen a woman run for national office. If you take a look at the ticket, they both considered a woman. I don't know how seriously George W. Bush did. Elizabeth Dole just didn't fill the holes in his resume. He had to go with somebody like Dick Cheney. I also believe that if Kay Bailey Hutchison were not from Texas, if she were from New Jersey, I think it would have been brilliant of George Bush to put her on the ticket. But she's not. And Christie Todd Whitman, though she is wonderful, she is a governor. She too has no experience in Washington and she's wrong as far as George W. is concerned. I think she also had a problem with the new Republican Party. Christie Todd Whitman doesn't fill the holes in his resume. I think she's a terrific candidate, but I also don't see her as a person that the Republican Party would accept because of her position on choice. That's why I said if Kay Bailey Hutchison were from a different state, it would be a very exciting race. I'm delighted it didn't happen because as a Democrat, I think a ticket like that would have won.

What were the highs and lows of this campaign season for each of them?

The high for Democrats and Al Gore was the convention. I thought his speech was magnificent. I think the low was the first debate, for him. I have not a clue as to why he wasn't himself. He's just this warm person and he just did not come over right. I think that was unfortunate.

I think George Bush's high was ... it's hard to see a high or a low with him because you don't see any contrast in the man himself. I don't see it in where he stands on issues. I think he's very bland and I think that's how this race is. Maybe I can say, I don't know what his highs or his lows are. Maybe I'm just not focusing on him. I mean, I don't see that the Republican Convention was a big high for him. He did all the things he had to do that he almost seems programmed. I don't see any real low. Even this situation [the news of Bush's 1976 drunk driving arrest]. He got caught never expecting that he would. People are kind of sitting there and saying, 'it doesn't make any difference.' I don't understand that. Here's a man who's been talking about honesty and dealing honestly with the voters. And he's the person who everybody can go to and they'll know that they'll get straight talk from him. Well, we haven't got any straight talk from him since the beginning of this campaign. Youth is not 30 years of age. That's a grown man. And whatever happened between 30 and 40, we don't have a clue. And he's not going to tell us. Ordinarily, you'd say this was a low for somebody else. But you can't with him. I don't know, maybe he doesn't realize it's a low, so we don't realize it's a low. [Laughs]

Campaign-finance reform has been a central theme in this election. What are the chances of real reform taking place?

First of all, I think it's extremely important, but I don't think they go far enough.... I absolutely think it's outrageous what's going on, but I think it's outrageous from several different viewpoints. It's so stupid and if someone can make a real pitch for public financing, that's what should be done. I think in light of the fact that we now have [a New York Senate race between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio] that has cost $100 million -- $25 million from each candidate and then the [two] parties coming in with an additional $50 million [$25 million from each party]. I can't tell you what that does to me. I just think it's an absolute corruption. I don't care what anybody says, that it doesn't impact on legislation. It does. When you say, 'My God, look at the connection between the votes and the contribution'. Is there any question? But is there any question that that connection exists? If not, what are these people, stupid? Are they absolutely stupid? Do you think the NRA is giving to George Bush because they think he's a nice guy? It's stupid, it's awful and it's horrendous. That being said, I do think we will get something done.

Can you speak a bit about the direction of the Democratic Party?

I think the direction's just fine. I think the direction of the party reflects the direction of the people of this country. There are fringe people in the Democratic Party and now they talk about voting for Nader. But I can't imagine that they're going to go into the booth and pull the lever if they think it's going to help elect George Bush. Because anybody who cares about the environment has to look at what he's done in the state of Texas and say, 'Am I crazy doing this?' Nader voters are generally very smart. Our fringe people are the Nader supporters. It seems to me that the fringe people are less vocal in the Republican Party this year because Pat Buchanan's making no impression whatsoever.

I think people who understand the system understand that you have to be able, in order to get anything done, to negotiate and compromise. I am not saying compromise principle. I am saying you have to be able to meet people halfway in order to get government going in this country.

This country is so diverse. There are so many people. It is huge and getting huger. And that's great. The fringe elements are just not going to be able to be successful. You see that with the Republican Party. As much as the far right dominated the Republican Party eight years ago, or certainly during Reagan's time, I think even the far right recognizes that sticking constantly to their views doesn't get anything accomplished for them or for anybody else. It leads to the shut down of government like Newt Gingrich's people did in 1994. It leads to the wrangling that you see going on in the Congress.

The American public wants none of this crap. That's one of the reasons why you have so few people showing up at the polls and so few people interested in elections, and so few people really voting on the issues. Get back to George Bush when they talk about, 'Well, he's a nice guy.' Well, we really don't know that. I assume he's a nice guy. But is he nice in personality for the reasons that you elect candidates? Then I would have been elected by a landslide in 1984. I'm very nice, and I think I have a nice personality. [Laughs] But that's not the reason people vote. People vote based on issues, or at least I hope they do. And they vote based upon what this country's going to do for them.

Anything else you'd like to get off your chest while we're speaking?

Will you get that guy Ralph Nader off my chest? Ralph Nader is one of those people who doesn't have a clue. When I was in the House, he used to beat up on everybody who voted for a pay raise. When I was in the House, I used to vote for every pay raise. Not necessarily because I needed it. Thank God I have John [Zaccaro, her husband]. My salary wasn't my sole means of support. But there are a lot of guys in my class who maintained two homes, who had a wife and a former wife, had families to take care of, and this was their sole support. I'm not saying people were having a tough time. But nobody pays for your lodgings in Washington. They only pay for your travel back and forth and not for your family.

So I voted for every pay increase. And Ralph Nader used to beat up on us. My response was always: here's a guy who all he had to be concerned about is himself. He has no family, so he doesn't understand families. He lived at that time in a one-bedroom apartment on kind of a cot. He didn't understand a simple issue like pay raise and why it was important to some people with families.

And I think that's what you see now. He really doesn't understand the needs of this country, if he thinks that having a third party is the most important need to be addressed in this election. I am rather convinced that he is putting all of his stock in this whole thing saying that if indeed George Bush gets elected as a result of his actions, it will create a great deal of enthusiasm for a third party movement.

I have to tell you it will be the end of the third-party movement. Take a look back to 1980. John Anderson was a credible candidate. If indeed that third party had won, he could have been President of the United States. No way in hell would Ralph Nader ever be able to deal with the job. In 1992, Perot, at least, had money. He didn't have anything else. But if you take a look at this race, this is insanity. As far as I'm concerned, it's a huge ego trip. And he should get off of it and move on if he really cares about the environment. I listened to his comments about choice, and I don't think he cares about the issue of choice. I don't think he cares about the Supreme Court. He thinks that if it gets sent back to the states, it will in effect be the same for women in this country. That is just not so. But if he really cares about the issues he claims to care about, he'll make sure he's not the agent to elect George Bush.