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Attorney, Private Practice 2000-present Former Senate Legal Counsel 1994-2000, Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature Chief Consultant, 1985 Northern Marianas Constitutional Convention

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Should McCain dump Palin?

I have written that John McCain's choice of vice presidential candidate was probably a colossal blunder. So should he dump her before the convention and irredeemable damage?

If he wants to have any shot at all at victory in November, probably not. He's already in a Catch-22.

In 1972, George McGovern chose the then junior Senator from Missouri, Thomas Eagleton, to be his vice president. This was a bad choice in that McGovern did not realize that Eagleton had been clinically depressed in the past (and successfully treated with electroshock therapy). Choosing Eagleton was a minor mistake, however. The major mistake was dumping him and picking Kennedy brother-in-law Sergeant Shriver as surrogate.

McGovern could have weathered any storm generated by Eagleton's history of "mental illness" by focusing on Eagleton's success in facing his illness and enduring treatment. At the same time he would have earned significant credit for letting reason rather than policial expediency govern his decision, and for heightening national awareness and understanding of depression.

Technically, McGovern did not "dump" Eagleton; he accepted Eagleton's offer to withdraw. Under the circumstances, however, public perception was -- justifiably -- that McGovern failed to stand by his veep choice. Thus, in a very real sense -- perhaps the truest sense -- he "dumped" him.

Some say the offer to withdraw was made at McGovern's request -- which would be a quite literal dumping. McGovern made this decision despite a Time magazine poll showing 77 percent of respondents were unconcerned about Eagleton's medical history.

For his part, though, Eagleton was eager to be the vice presidential candidate, and his failure to let McGovern (or anyone else) know of his past before he was named for veep was called, by McGovern in a 2007 interview with the New York Times after Eagleton's death, "an incredible cover up."

Eagleton died early in 2007. From his entry into politics at 27 (election as St. Louis circuit attorney) to his retirement from the Senate thirty years later in 1987, Eagleton never lost an election. During the final twenty years of his life, according to the New York Times, he "remained passionate about public affairs" and "was outraged by the Iraq war." In a 2006 letter, he pleaded with former President Bill Clinton to "forgo 'the traditional silence of an ex-president in wartime' " to oppose the war.

Incidentally, I was active in McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.

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