Sarah Palin and the Eagleton Meme

When John McCain nominated Sarah Palin as his running mate, it unleashed the most hysterical storm of media muckraking and villification I’ve personally ever witnessed.  She was perceived as a serious threat to their “anointed one,” Barack Obama, and they dropped any pretense of “objective journalism” in attacking her.  For a week and more, one couldn’t watch any legacy media news report that wasn’t repeating some hackneyed anti-Palin smear for the umpteenth time.  Now I’m no fan of Palin, but I couldn’t help feeling outraged at the time at the shear mendacity of their attacks.  Yet journalists as a species are as utterly convinced of their own righteousness as any Pharisee, and in this, as in so many other cases, they ended up believing their own cant.  In their fevered imaginations, they managed to magnify the paltry smears they’d managed to dig up by dunning Palin’s political enemies into derelictions of the first water.  The result was the now largely forgotten Eagleton meme.

Those of you with long memories will recall that George McGovern nominated Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton as his running mate after clinching the Democratic nomination for President in 1972.  When it was discovered that Eagleton had received medical treatment  and was under medication for a mental health problem, McGovern threw him under the bus, replacing him with Kennedy in-law Sargent Schriver.  Of course, the “similarities” with Palin immediately occurred to mainstream media journalists.  For them, the historical parallel was “obvious,” and they immediately got in the tiresome habit if asking anyone they could find to interview if they thought Palin had been properly “vetted,” as if the whole world must believe the same fairy tale.   They were cocksure McCain would have to abandon her, and that with alacrity.  For example, from Joshua Green of the Atlantic:

Here in St. Paul, talk of Palin has dominated the Republican convention—even more so than cable news—and by Monday night discussion among Republican operatives and reporters had turned to whether Palin would survive or become the first running mate since Thomas Eagleton in 1972 to leave a major-party ticket.

The more circumspect CNN played the familiar journalistic game of using an incendiary headline, but hedging its bets in the body of the article itself.  The headline of an item that appeared on September 3, 2008:

Betting on a Palin withdrawal

The more subliminal Eagleton reference in the body of the article:

Placing a Palin withdrawal at even 12% seems bullish; no presidential candidate has withdrawn his VP selection since Thomas Eagleton left Democratic candidate George McGovern’s ticket in 1972.

The Grey Lady was less subtle.  It’s headline, by op-ed guy Gary Wills:

McCain’s McGovern Moment

and his sage advice, after being “shocked, shocked,” to learn that Palin was “an initial supporter of the so-called bridge to nowhere; an appointer of a man who had been officially reprimanded for sexual harassment as the public safety commissioner in Alaska; a mother of an unwed and pregnant 17-year-old; and other things being ferreted out by the minute.”

Perhaps Senator McGovern should not have deserted Tom Eagleton. Perhaps Senator McCain should stick by Governor Palin. But if he does soldier on with her by his side for a while, will he end up having to call another midget convention like the one that had to be cobbled together to nominate Sargent Shriver? That is hardly in his best interests.

Perhaps Governor Palin, realizing that and trying to minimize her own humiliation in coming days, should withdraw before she is nominated and let Senator McCain turn again to one of his more experienced options. We should remember that Senator Eagleton went on to serve honorably after his withdrawal, both during his time in the Senate and in charitable work after he retired from public office. He died last year, respected and beloved.

Gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?  Well, the Eagleton meme is no more, the MSM’s curiosity about whether Palin was properly “vetted” seems to have evaporated, and the former governor’s political stock seems to be doing just fine at the moment.  Still, it’s interesting to recall the fantasy worlds journalists occasionally create for themselves when they take themselves too seriously.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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