In 1972, George McGovern Withdrew His VP Pick Terry Eagleton. In 2008, will John McCain Do the Same with Sarah Palin?

If you look up the article at Wikipedia on Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern’s initial pick for VP in the 1972 presidential election, the parallels with Sarah Palin are rather striking:

  • Like McGovern’s 1972 VP pick, Palin seems to be someone who is “out there,” if not mentally, as Eagleton may have been, then at least ideologically.
  • Eagleton, who it was revealed, had undergone mental health treatment, including electroshock therapy, fast became the butt of jokes. Likewise Palin, for a variety of different reasons, seems to be becoming also a popular source of jest—implying that many voters perceive her as someone who lacks the seriousness to be president.
  • Like McGovern’s pick, McCain’s pick is provoking questions about his good sense and judgment. Here’s a quote from the Wikipedia article on Eagleton:

McGovern’s handling of the controversy was an opening for the Republican campaign to raise serious questions about his judgment. In the general election, the Democratic ticket won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

The media controversy swirling around Eagleton only subsided when McGovern dropped him from the ticket. Here, once again, is Wikipedia:

McGovern said he would back Eagleton “1000%”, but on August 1, Eagleton withdrew at McGovern’s request and, after [a] new search by McGovern, was replaced by Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver.

A Time magazine poll taken at the time found that 77 percent of the respondents said “Eagleton’s medical record would not affect their vote.” Nonetheless, the press made frequent references to his shock therapy, and McGovern feared that this would detract from his campaign platform.

Will McCain’s Sarah Palin problem resolve itself in a similar manner—by McCain withdrawing her name from the ticket?

Maybe not.

Andrew Sullivan, at his blog, thinks that if McCain tries to dump Palin he will unleash forces that are emotionally volatile, and therefore unpredictable:

The drama that could unfold in the next few days is simply immense. The emotions involved – especially among the Christianist base who have immediately bonded on purely religious and cultural terms with Palin – are epic. What I fear is some kind of pure emotional-religious wave that redefines the GOP for ever as a purely religious party, swamps all genuine questions about governance, celebrates this woman as the epitome of modern conservatism and rides the tidal wave of fundamentalist fervor to the White House.

This is not what McCain intended or wanted.

He wanted a reformer. He’s got a saint. He doesn’t understand the profound forces he has unleashed with this pick . . .

The collective psyche of the Republican party, and the country, is about to go through some very raw turbulence.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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13 Responses to In 1972, George McGovern Withdrew His VP Pick Terry Eagleton. In 2008, will John McCain Do the Same with Sarah Palin?

  1. Chip Thompson says:

    You guys are really afraid of this woman aren’t you. Whas a matter, can’t handle a strong woman. If she’s really that bad, just let her speak. If she doesn’t make sense, looks bad or sounds too ideological, then the problem will take care of itself and your unvetted, uninvestigated, inexperienced idealogue will be elected and you can all self congratulate yourselves that your religion is superior.

  2. santitafarella says:

    When I first heard of McCain’s pick, I WAS afraid of her (because I assumed, incorrectly, that he had found a moderate pro-choice Republican woman to run with). In such a case, I thought that Obama-Biden would have a very difficult time beating THAT ticket.

    I thought Obama should have picked Hillary, Sebelius, or Diane Feinstein for his running mate, so no, I’m not afraid of strong, feminist women.

    I also happen to be married to one.

    BUT Sarah Palin strikes me as an intellectual lightweight. (Sorry, but I respect people with high powered minds. I think it is virtuous to be thoughtful, reflective, and skeptical. I like people who honor complexity). Palin shows no evidence that she thinks complexly about issues, or with vulnerability and openness. And so far as I can tell, she’s not well read, and appears to have minimal curiosity (she has done little travel in her lifetime and appears content to live in places far from high art and culture). Palin, for example, is 44 years old and has never set foot on the European continent. Think about what that says about a person, and the depth of her intellectual and cultural curiosity.

    How well she gives a speech, or recites talking points in an interview, will not change that.

    Palin also strikes me as a political reactionary of the worst sort (anti-gay rights, obnoxiously anti-environment, proudly ignorant and dismissive of history and science, and stupidly provincial, as in her husband’s longtime association with an Alaskan separatist political party).

    Palin may prove a formidible speaker and campaigner. She may connect with people on an emotional level. And she may help McCain win the presidency.

    Demagogues are often rewarded for their rhetorical manipulations.

    That doesn’t mean I have to like what I see, or somehow submit my judgment to the majority just because most people wind up swooning for her.

    Based on what I have learned of her, I will oppose her where I think she deserves opposition, and I will continue to speak my mind concerning her.

  3. Chip Thompson says:

    Well I hope you can watch her tonight when she give her acceptance speech. I sat through Obamas speech of angry rhetoric. (Demogogues are often rewarded for thier rhetorical manipulations) I want to see how she does against Biden in the debates. That will be a good test. Who knows, she might actually be intelligent, even though she hasn’t stepped foot on the European Continent.

    Have you noticed how Palin has recieved nothing but scrutiny and negative articles since she’s been thrust in the spotlight? Did that happen to Obama, say after he won Iowa? Aside from the right, has he been scrutinized for his associations with William Ayers by the press. Some people might judge a person by the company he keeps.

    As far as experience, Obama is much more experienced at; working the system, walking the back halls, never taking a stand, looking to jump to that next level. He’s a wonderful Orator, who has no hands on accomplishments. (Name them) Palin seems to have fought corruption and government waste wherever shes been and succeeded.

  4. santitafarella says:


    I will watch her tonight.

    Of course Obama is a rhetorical manipulator too—all human being are. I’m troubled by the way our politics is played, and my guess is that if Sarah, Obama, Joe, and John could figure out a way to survive in the contemporary electronic media environment without resort to cliche, demonization, and oversimplification, that they would.

    And as for Sarah having a tough time with bloggers like me, and the media, well, what do you expect? She invites enormous criticism—she wants to be VP of the US!

    And as for Obama, you are free to start a sass blog on Obama any day of the week, and try to get people to read it.

    FOX news has obviously been tough on Obama. And Hillary was tough on Obama.

    And you’re free to be tough on Obama.

    So why the whining?

  5. Chip Thompson says:

    Sarah rocks. You know she did good when CNN did not have any commentary and instead decided to let us watch a little Cowboy Troy.

    We’re not whining, we’re just tired of advocates portraying themselves as unbiased reporters.

  6. santitafarella says:

    Sarah was very good—even Reaganesque. But she is simply too far right on too many issues—and she’s going to energize and polarize the electorate, making it more difficult for McCain to attract swing voters.

    Rhetoric and style and pugnatiousness are not all—and can backfire (as Obama learned from his Germany trip).

  7. Chip Thompson says:

    Aside from Abortion, on what issue is she too right?

    Remember, she made a choice to have her child.

  8. santitafarella says:


    A choice she would deny to others.

    A few other issues that she is far right on:
    —she opposes listing polar bears on the endangered species list—even though scientists recommend it.
    —she rejects the notion that global warming has a human factor.
    —she opposes sex education taught in schools.
    —she favors creationism taught in schools.
    —she opposes abortion rights—even when the life of the mother is threatened, or even in cases of rape.
    —she opposes gay rights—including gay marriage.

    This is just a sample. I could go on.

  9. nobama08 says:

    Never mind Palin, will Obama throw Biden under the bus?

    “”Make no mistake about this,” Biden responded. “Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America.”

  10. truthteller says:

    We need to ask ourselves selves honestly, would Sarah Palin’s uneducated comments and butchering of the English language fly with old school Republican men if they really took her seriously? Answer: Of course not, because she was clearly chosen for political advantage due to her sex and ‘down home’ personality as part of the most blatantly crass and down right dishonest political campaign I have ever witnessed. They don’t really care what she says, because they know that she belongs to them (just as Bush and Mc Cain belong to them) and that she will say and do whatever they tell her to if and when the time comes. They don’t care. To them it is nothing more or less than a last ditch effort for them to maintain power. During the RNC, I watched a televised seminar where several elderly Republican males sat around looking depressed while listening to one of their own, who stated, ‘A while back we decided to let our woman work outside the home, but you’ve got to admit that it was a brilliant and innovative strategy for us to actually give one an important position’ This should make any self-respecting woman’s blood boil! Go Obama Biden, let’s get these distracting lies out of the way so that we can get down to business and restore America to it’s People! As far as I’m concerned Obama is the most inspiring leader we have seen in just about forever! Barbie dolls and GI Joe dolls don’t do much to inspire me!

  11. Bob Webster says:

    Palin resonates with the people the way Ronald Reagan did. If that bothers the pseudo-intellectual snobs who count books read as an indication of one’s fitness to be VP, then that’s just too bad.

    Palin has the ethics, honor, intelligence, common sense, and moral compass to lead effectively. And she has never sought politics the way professional politician-lawyers do (as a way to make their fortune and wield power). She has entered politics to do good, and her sense of values and understanding of Constitutional restraint make her far better qualified to lead this country than either Obama or Biden (both lawyers, and rather poor ones at that).

    Those who continue to write that she is unpopular with the public will simply keep making her more popular with a public that is fed up with snide, smarmy comments from liberals and their attempts at character assassination.

    But then, name-calling is all liberals really have in their arsenal.

    Their hubris will be their undoing. It blinds them to the public’s reaction.

  12. santitafarella says:


    Your image of Palin does not square with her record.

    For example, how does installing a 35,000 dollar tanning bed in the governor’s mansion at tax payer expense square with either her professed Christianity or conservatism?

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