Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Eagleton 1972, Palin 2008

Last night on Larry King, which was "re-empted" after day one of the Republican Convention which was supposed to pre-empt regular cable news programming was scaled back due to Hurricane Gustav (which, thankfully, proved to be far less worse than feared), one of the guests raised the spectre of Sarah Palin becoming the first veep candidate forced to withdraw. King corrected her, pointing out that a Democrat, Thomas Eagleton, was the first to do that in 1972.

Eagleton, who served as a Senator from Missouri from 1968-1987after serving as the state's Attorney General and then Lieutenant Governor, failed to mention to George McGovern during the vetting process (in those days little more than a criminal background check) that during the 1960s, Eagleton had several physical and nervous breakdowns and had to check himself into the hospital. During two of these visits, he received electroshock therapy.

Today, while still a severe problem, many more people would look past this; understanding that many if not most receive counselling or treatment for depression at some point in their lives -- and with better medicines and treatment options, shock therapy is extremely rare. Unfortunately in those days, people were much more prejudicial about the issue and thanks to the Exempt Media, the prejudice is still widespread in many quarters.

The other problem Eagleton faced was that he had stomach problems. Some thought this really meant he had a drinking problem. It got worse when columnist Jack Anderson -- himself a target for assassination from the Nixon White House after his own aggressive investigation of Watergate -- suggested falsely that Eagleton had been cited for DUI.

While McGovern initially said he was behind Eagleton "1000%," and a vast majority of voters in polls indicated his mental health was a non-issue, the press kept pushing the shock therapy issue in a deliberate attempt to engender prejudice against those who have mental health issues -- which is at least 20% of the population. Finally Eagleton felt he had no choice but to quit the campaign and McGovern replaced him with Sargent Shriver, brother-in-law of JFK and father of Maria.

The Republicans immediately used this partially manufactured fiasco to point to McGovern's lack of "judgement" and Nixon won 49 out of 50 states that fall. I say partially because Eagleton, who died last year (and as it turns out was the source of the anonymous "amnesty, abortion and acid" quote which also sunk the McGovern campaign), probably should have been more forthcoming about his medical treatments which if had would have quelled the issue. But the fact the press kept pushing it is also unforgivable -- there were other issues, after all; including the fact that the same night Eagleton dropped out, one of Nixon's fundraisers was able to confirm that some campaign funds had been embezzled. That story, far more important, wound up on Page One of only one newspaper; and below the fold of the Eagleton resignation.

So we go to Sarah Palin. What her family does is their own business. But the whole affair with possible interference with the Alaska Police; as well as her prior involvement with a party that advocates seceding from the US and possibly joining Canada (or a significantly restructured one to be more accurate) makes me wonder just how much the McCain campaign checked her out, or whether the pick of Palin was a gut reaction to Obama's choosing Biden as his running mate.

People don't vote for vice-presidents separately at the polls; only the electoral college does that. But we remember the poor vetting about Dan Quayle twenty years ago, a second-term Senator from Indiana. He became the source of numerous gaffes ("What a waste it is to lose one's mind" instead of "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" was my favourite) and fodder for comedians like Mark Russell ("Get an A in law school, become a Supreme Court Judge ... get a D, you could be vice-president!") and the Capitol Steps ("Walk like a Dan"). To be fair, Quayle was actually competent in the tasks assigned to him, in particular on the National Security Council and on the Space Council; but the fact Bush 41 did have some health issues during his presidency and that Quayle was only that proverbial "heartbeat away" made many very nervous.

Do I think Palin is ready to step in if something happened to John McCain? I don't think he would have picked her otherwise. Does her alleged behaviour in "Troopergate" call into question her integrity? I just can't believe that McCain thoroughly investigated this, when the prosecutors in Alaska haven't finished their investigation.

The situation we're facing right now is much more like the Eagleton situation, rather than Quayle. The media is focusing too much on Palin's daughter's pregnancy, rather than on her judgement as an executive officer in her alleged involvement in the firing of a police officer who happens to be her ex-brother-in-law. Most people would have avoided someone facing possible legal issues, regardless of guilt or lack thereof. McCain, like McGovern thirty-six years ago, has made himself look like a real fool; and the fact Palin's a woman has nothing to do with that.

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