[This article appeared in the October-November 1984 issue of The St. Croix Review, pp. 30-36.] 


The Ferraro Candidacy: How It Reflects the Liberal-Conservative Split Over Minority Rights 

Dwight D. Murphey 


            There is, of course, much that is good about Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s choice as his running mate for vice president.  She graduated from law school at a time when few women did so, is the mother of three children, and has shown fine energy as she has climbed the ladder in politics.

            But whatever can be said in her favor as a person, she is most assuredly not qualified to be the president of the United States—which is, or ought to be, the prime consideration in selecting a candidate for vice president.

            Newspaper reports immediately following her selection gave the following details about her.  She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in 1956.  Then, teaching school during the daytime, she attended Fordham University Law School at night.  After law school, she remained at home bearing and raising three children until her youngest was eight.  At that time, a cousin was elected District Attorney and appointed her an assistant district attorney.  In 1978, she was elected to a seat in Congress, representing a district in Queens.  Since then, she has served 5 ½ years in the House.  In part through the mentorship of Speaker Tip O’Neill, she presided as head of the platform committee at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

            If indeed a vice president is “a heartbeat away from the presidency,” which we know is true, this record is the thinnest possible qualification for it.

            This, of course, is not the first time that a little-known figure has been picked to run for vice president.  Despite the obviously adverse reflection on their statesmanship, candidates for president have often been impervious to the need to select someone who is clearly qualified to be president.  They have frequently made their choice on the basis of geographical balance and like factors.  We saw this on the conservative side, say, when Barry Goldwater selected William Miller and when Richard Nixon settled on Spiro Agnew.

            In the present instance, Geraldine Ferraro was chosen because she was a woman.  She would not have been chosen otherwise, and it was her only qualification.  Near the end of June, 1984, the National Organization for Women met in Miami, where, according to press reports, its members “threatened a floor fight if Mondale picked a man as his running mate.”  On July 4, twenty-three Democratic women met with Mondale to apply additional pressure.

            The selection is objectionable because Mrs. Ferraro lacks the qualifications and because it is a prime example of “reverse discrimination.”  In this article, however, I shall broaden the discussion to place the selection in a longer-term perspective.  Walter Mondale’s act in picking an unqualified woman to run for vice president offers an excellent example of how “liberals” and “conservatives” have differed since World War II over the various issues that have related to minority rights. 

Agreement Over Ends 

            I don’t find it possible to agree with those who say that the competing social philosophies all agree on ends, and simply disagree about the means.  But the statement is true in some areas.

            With regard to racial minorities, American conservatives have shared with liberals the goal of legal, social and political equality.  (When I use the word “conservative” here I mean those who hold to any of the various philosophies that today support the ideal of limited government and a market economy.)  Barry Goldwater, for example, was active in the 1940s in causing the desegregation of the Air National Guard in Arizona.

            With regard to sexual equality, the question of ultimate values is more complex.  Many conservatives, including the author, see considerable benefit to a free society in strong monogamous marriage, sexual differentiation, and family units.  We have not been enthused about the ideological pulling and tugging that has undermined those values in the name of “feminism.”

            American society today, however, has for a variety of reasons gone so far down the road toward women’s active participation in industry and the professions that, purely as a matter of objective fact, it is hardly possible to disagree with the observation that “one of these days, perhaps soon, there will be a woman president.”  Since there is very little social option any more about the ultimate direction of our society on the so-called “women’s rights” issue, except with regard to a number of peripheral issues that remain, it can hardly be said any longer that the difference between liberals and conservatives in that regard pertains to their differing social visions.  Conservatives can still champion the values inherent in marriage and the family to the extent that it is politically feasible to do so in the new context, but it will be futile for them to struggle against the ongoing integration of women into the industrial and professional marketplace. 

Differing Value Systems Lead to Differing Means 

            The essential disagreement between liberals and conservatives over racial equality since World War II, and over sexual equality recently, has had to do with means.  This does not suggest, however, that the split has not been profound.

            The candidacy of Geraldine Ferraro provides a small but revealing example of the conflict.  Walter Mondale, on behalf of the feminist movement, is willing to advance the equality of women at the cost of running a clearly unqualified person for the vice presidency.  Anyone who is not in nearly so much of a hurry on the equality issue, and who at the same time values the importance of having someone who is qualified to serve as vice president, will see that what Mondale is doing is pursuing a valid end by an invalid means. 

The Broader Context 

            The argument over means reflects the long-standing disagreement between liberals and conservatives over the nature of American society and over the sort of “hierarchy of values” that is to be applied.

            Modern American liberalism has been in a hurry on the matter of social equality.  It is this that has given liberals, especially since World War II, their ideological, moral thrust; and it is this that has tied together their often shaky coalition.

            The egalitarian impetus has reflected the worldview that has been held by the Left, in all its variants, for well over the last century: that the principal issue in society is the “plight of the have-nots” within the context of middle-class, commercial culture.  The specific “have-nots” have varied, but the search for a coalition based on those who are most receptive to political action at a given time has been never-ending.

            In part, the source of this agitation has been the actual condition of the unassimilated groups, although this can best be understood in the context of their improving, rather than worsening, situation and of their “revolution of rising expectations.”  But there have been factors that have been far more important than any substantive grievances they may have had.  I am thinking in particular of two of the major facts about modern civilization: the long-standing “alienation of the intellectual” from the main culture; and the intellectuals’ continuing search, for more than a century, for allies in their attack on that culture.

            There are important reasons for pointing these things out.

            In the first place, they explain, at least in part, why it is that the egalitarian is always in so much of a hurry.  When egalitarianism is the main vehicle for ideological hostility and for the opportunism of coalition politics, it cannot allow itself to be subordinated to other values.  To be slowed down is to lose its usefulness for those purposes.

            In the second place, an understanding of the deeper factors allows us to see that the ideology of the Left involves diminished appreciation for—and, indeed, often an actual hostility toward—the other principles, values and institutions that make up the main society.

            When conservatives quarrel with liberals over means, it is a quarrel between those who value the main culture, on the one hand, and those whose “hierarchy of values” involves (a) placing considerable value on the program of change they are endorsing and (b) putting a depreciated value on the other aspects of the society.

            In one of the areas in which there is agreement between the ideologies about ultimate ends, such as over minority rights, the conflict that remains is between patience, using valid methods, and impatience, often using invalid means.

            Conservatives want a proper foundation laid for social change.  They are well aware that more and more women are running for office—and that women will soon be candidates for vice president and even president.  But they would first have the women become qualified.  To the liberal, it is quite all right for a woman’s candidacy, which is a desired objective, to precede the availability of a qualified woman candidate. 

Other Examples 

            We have seen this same disregard for proper means in almost all other areas of the minority-rights crusade.

            Brushing aside Constitutional principles.  The disregard occurred when the decision was made twenty-five years ago to outlaw, first by state legislation and then by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, private discrimination between individuals.

            If we think back, we recall that this involved an overriding of certain very important Constitutional principles: property rights, freedom of contract, and freedom of association.  All of these, which were Constitutional values that liberalism had already depreciated in other connections, were subordinated to equality.

            At the same time, the law was made to intervene into billions of interpersonal transactions.  Were we not saved from oppressive enforcement by the good offices of a pervasive national hypocrisy, these laws would require a federal police network far beyond anything Americans have ever contemplated.

            Use of “testers.”  The disregard occurred also when the federal government, through all of its branches, including the courts, began to countenance the use of “testers” to find and to punish those who commit discriminatory acts in areas such as housing.

            Here, a good purpose serves to justify a means that is altogether inconsistent with life in a free society.  It is now possible to bring into being legal violations through the creation of situations purely by artifice.  If that is legally and ethically permissible, what segment of the population may not in the future be subject to on-going undercover scrutiny and prosecution?

            It is fascinating that liberals, who objected so strenuously to the “national mood of paranoia” that they say existed during the “McCarthy era,” are quite willing to countenance, on behalf of an end they consider desirable, a network of hundreds, and potentially of thousands, of private and quasi-governmental undercover agents.

            Reverse discrimination.  Still another instance of putting a hurried egalitarianism ahead of sound principle can be seen in liberals’ advocacy of reverse discrimination, which they justify as “compensatory.”

            At first, the civil rights movement fought for the ancient principle of “equality under the law.”   In doing so, its followers could invoke a principle that has been honored in Western civilization since Pericles gave his funeral oration, and that such authors as F. A. Hayek consider one of the mainstays of a free society.

            But the principle of compensatory action departs from “equality under the law” for the sake of speeding up the process.  It thereby pursues a desirable end by means that are fundamentally destructive.

            This reflects the two parts of the liberal hierarchy of values.  It shows liberals’ emphasis on the reform measure upon which they are focusing; and it reveals how little they value the principles that are basic to the main culture.  The latter half of this ought not to surprise us.  The Left has in fact been a bitter opponent of the concept of “equality under the law” in other areas.  We recall Anatole France’s bitter parody of “the majestic equality under the law which prohibits the rich as well as the poor from sleeping under bridges, stealing bread,” etc.

            Other double standards.  It is possible, of course, to go on, continuing to list examples.  We can mention the other double standards that liberalism indulges in, such as when it seeks to prohibit fraternities and sororities from discriminating against blacks and Jews while at the same time having nothing to say about black sororities, Jewish fraternities, black “homecoming queen” contests, and the like.

            Double standards reveal a stark insincerity with regard to the principles being espoused, and they undermine the basis for the long-term reconciliation that all men of good will must hope for among disparate peoples.  Those of us who care deeply about the relations between the races and the sexes can only hope that the principles will not be brought into ultimate disrepute.

            As we consider the twentieth century and the atrocities that have been committed during it, it ought to be clear that the true interests of all minorities are most to be found in a society’s deeply-rooted adherence to the ideals and principles of the Enlightenment.  Their long-term interests are never served by a departure from those principles.

            It should be clear that we need a developing sense on the part of the American people of when they are being snookered.  Americans thus far have shown a dangerous propensity toward gullibility, and a generous willingness to lend themselves, without thought and without balance, to whatever egalitarian fad is placed before them by the vogue-makers.  In that non-discriminating readiness to be sheep we see another of the many dangers that, unless offset by substantial strengths, will undo our society.