By TOM LAWRENCE
The Daily Republic
Looking back 40 years, George McGovern said he faced a no-win situation with Tom Eagleton. “I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn’t,” McGovern said. He was referring to the decision he faced once he learned his 1972 Democratic running mate had been treated for mental illness, and had undergone shock therapy during two of three hospitalizations as he struggled with depression.
Revelations of Eagleton’s medical history in the days after the 1972 Democratic National Convention stunned the country and placed his spot on the ticket in doubt.
At first, McGovern said he was “1,000 percent” behind Eagleton. It was a quote that would haunt him.
But as the stories and rumors piled up, McGovern wavered. He was also hearing from a lot of his supporters and from top Democrats, who advised him to replace Eagleton.
“Half said get rid of him and half said keep him,” said Gary Hart, who was McGovern’s campaign manager 40 years ago. “It was pretty strongly felt on both sides.”
No matter what the South Dakota senator did, his presidential campaign would be extremely damaged, Hart and McGovern both said. In the end, after consulting with specialists in psychiatry, medicine and politics, McGovern asked Eagleton to step aside.
On July 31, 1972, 18 days after he was nominated for vice president, he did so.
McGovern said to this day he struggles with the decision.
“If had it to do over again, I’d have kept him,” McGovern told The New York Times. “I didn’t know anything about mental illness. Nobody did.”
Another factor was the tenuous health of his daughter Terry, who also struggled with depression and mental health issues. McGovern admits that crossed his mind during the debate over Eagleton’s future.
He wanted to support his daughter, and send a message to her that people with such problems were not forever damaged.