Today comes news of the death of 1984 Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who has lost her battle with blood cancer at age 75. Ferraro has been derided on several fronts over the years, most recently for her comments during the 2008 Presidential primaries, which out of respect we'll leave at that. She's been criticized for being part of the Walter Mondale ticket, a campaign that got its clock so thoroughly cleaned that Mondale's name has become something of a byword for a campaign that has been soundly defeated. As the campaign went so poorly, she's further been derided as a show pony, the 'first woman on a Presidential ticket' tag meant to prop up a candidate who was going down in flames.
As history is slowly showing, though, however badly Mondale's campaign went, that doesn't change the fact that she was the first woman on a Presidential ticket. She didn't sink the ticket- it was sunk to begin with- and that's really all anyone ever asks of a running mate. However contrived the breaking of a glass ceiling, the fact remains that Ferraro broke it. Lou Gehrig once extended his consecutive-games streak in 1934 by taking one at-bat in the first inning and then sitting for the rest of the day. Nobody holds it against him today.
Women are today fully viable options as candidates. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were also unsuccessful in their respective campaigns, but to dwell on their losses rather misses the point that was made by two women being taken seriously in the same Presidential campaign- one being placed on a ticket (whatever I or anyone else thinks of that), the other very nearly winning her party's nomination on her own merits, losing to another similarly glass-ceilinged demographic superlative. The questions 'will there be a female head of the ticket' and 'will there be a female President' are not really viable questions anymore. It's not a matter of if. It's a matter of when, and who. It may not happen immediately- too much depends on the specific bodies in the field, new Presidents are elected only every 4-8 years, and of course, only one person can win- but it's going to happen, sooner or later. Without Geraldine Ferraro getting the 'first member of a ticket' milestone out of the way, publicity stunt or not, in an otherwise disastrous campaign, who knows if we can say that today.
Here's her acceptance speech from 1984.