George McGovern's death on October 21 has inspired remembrances of his status as a longtime liberal champion, but also his losing 1972 presidential campaign. For the nostalgic (or pre-conscious) McGovernite in us all, we have Joshua M. Glasser's The Eighteen-Day Running Mate: McGovern, Eagleton, and a Campaign in Crisis. It's a down-to-the-minute run-through of McGovern's pick and subsequent firing of Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton as his running mate after Eagleton's history of mental illness and electroshock therapy were revealed. Now, of course, we remember that election as a historic landslide and the year of the Watergate break-in. At the time of McGovern's pick, he was still the inspirational liberal leader who'd beaten out an establishment candidate to take the Democratic nomination.
Sound familiar? There's an air of familiarity to much of what Glasser recounts here. McGovern's campaign for the nomination achieves victory in part because they enlist "hordes of young and dedicated volunteers" (including young Bill Clinton and his girlfriend Hillary Rodham). Later, McGovern's establishment opponent, Ed Muskie, tears up — or maybe doesn't tear up — in New Hampshire.
There's more, but Glasser doesn't dwell on these moments, nor does he make overt the sense of déjà vu they might inspire. Instead, he's more interested in the ways the two disparate camps behind McGovern and Eagleton failed to communicate and work together to manage the issue. In a campaign that had made its name with honesty, McGovern's growing sense that he needed to make a political decision was hamstrung by his early comment that he was "a thousand percent" behind Eagleton.
For such a detail-filled book, Glasser keeps the tone lively, though there are times when it starts to feel like every conversation between every set of staffers is being recounted. Still, it stands as a fascinating window into the ways in which one moment ("a thousand percent," "no new taxes," "binders full of women") can define a campaign, and Glasser does an admirable job of ensuring that neither McGovern nor Eagleton emerges as the villain.
THE EIGHTEEN-DAY RUNNING MATE: MCGOVERN, EAGLETON, AND A CAMPAIGN IN CRISIS :: By Joshua M. Glasser :: Yale University Press :: 392 pages :: $26
, George McGovern, review, book