Thomas Eagleton, who for all of eighteen days was George McGovern's running mate for the '72 Democratic presidential ticket, has died at 77.
The reason McGovern dropped Eagleton? It was revealed that--gasp--he'd been treated for depression.
McGovern's reaction seems like something from the Dark Ages now. Eagleton's career had been remarkably straightforward--prosecutor turned attourney general for Missouri. He was in his first term in the senate when McGovern came calling. (McGovern kept hoping Teddy Kennedy would respond to his overatures, but there was no way Kennedy was going to be anybody's vice president.) McGovern's people asked Eagleton if there was anything embarrassing in his background, and Eagleton said no. From his point of view, there wasn't.
I don't know enough about Eagleton to know if his condition was perhaps a genetic trait, something he had all his life. But personally, I can't imagine how somebody with Eagleton's resume, if they cared about their job and acted on their conscience, could not be gripped with depression. Most politicians today, regardless of political persuasion, really don't give a rat's ass about anything but their own power. By all acounts, Eagleton was not like that. He always did what he felt was right, which isn't easy for anyone in their day-to-day life, and is almost unheard of in politics. Sometimes that courage comes with a price, and sometimes that price involves therapy.
It's easy to think the world has changed a lot since 1972. Anti-depressants and mood elevating drugs are so common, it's surprising to meet someone who hasn't been on at least one. They're sold on TV all the time, with pretty, soft focus images and soothing music that makes it clear that hey, everybody hurts. Sometimes it's just too much. No big deal.
Have things changed, though? If John Kerry's proud military service record could somehow be transformed into a liability by Bush's hit squad, when shadowy operatives are preparing to crucify Hillary Clinton simply because she calls herself a feminist, what would they do if a leading candidate admitted to seeing a psychiatrist?
I know, but I don't want to know.