Looking back now, the controversy that removed Missouri Senator Tom Eagleton from the Democratic vice presidential spot seems so insignificant. But 35 years ago, there was a substantial stigma to any issue involving mental health. And Eagleton's revelation that he had been treated for depression was just too much for the nation to accept. Presidential-aspirant George McGovern asked Eagleton to step aside. The rest is history. The longtime Missouri Senator died peacefully this week. He was 77.
Eagleton was a giant in the United States Senate. An early opponent of the war in Vietnam, Eagleton rarely backed away from a fight and even more rarely compromised his positions. His early stand on Vietnam was unpopular in Missouri. As time progressed and the war there continued, Eagleton's popularity steadily climbed.
But sadly, it was the McGovern's turnaround that will mark Eagleton's name in history. McGovern had just pledged "1000 percent" support for Eagleton when pressures changed his mind. He flip-flopped on his vice presidential choice despite his pledge. And in the end, McGovern lost the most lop-sided election in our nation's history.
Eagleton was no stranger to Sikeston or all of southeast Missouri. He had many friends in this part of the country. Back then, Republicans in this region were scarce. And though he leaned toward the liberal side of the political spectrum, Eagleton nonetheless was not uncomfortable among traditional conservative Democrats. Or Republicans.
Had Eagleton remained on the ticket, McGovern now says the Democrats would have won. I doubt that very seriously. It was certainly not Eagleton's departure from the ticket that doomed McGovern.
Just two years after Eagleton's disclosure, with Richard Nixon remaining in the White House, the Watergate scandal unraveled. That black episode of our nation's history most certainly would not have occurred. But hindsight is easy now.
Thomas Eagleton will go down in history as a major force in this state and this country. Since he was just 42 when McGovern asked him to step-down, we can only speculate on just where Eagleton might have gone under different circumstances. It would be easy to look back and see that Eagleton would have been presidential timber some day.
But as with all things, you cannot rewrite history. We'll never know the direction our country would have taken. But it certainly is interesting to speculate.