BILLINGSLEY: Biden’s Waning Sanity Is Reminiscent Of McGovern’s 1972 Running Mate

Lloyd Billingsley Policy Fellow, Independent Institute
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Former vice president Joe Biden chooses “truth over facts,” sometimes seems unsure of his location, and tells anybody who will listen, “I’m not going nuts.” This recalls a previous presidential candidate who made mental health a defining issue.

In 1972, the Democratic Party candidate for president was George McGovern, a veteran of 35 flying missions in World War II. In 1948, convinced that Stalin’s USSR posed no threat, McGovern became an enthusiastic supporter of Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace, a former vice president under FDR.

In 1962, McGovern won a Senate seat in South Dakota. The Soviets were then moving nuclear missiles into Cuba, which McGovern did not consider a threat. His first speech would be published by the New York Times Magazine, with the headline, “Is Castro an Obsession with Us? McGovern considered Fidel Castro his “friend.” Despite this leftist record, Democrats judged McGovern the best candidate to take on Richard Nixon in 1972.

As National Public Radio recalls, McGovern alienated the party’s old guard and stalwarts like Abe Ribicoff, Gaylord Nelson and even Ted Kennedy declined to be his running mate. McGovern also alienated big labor and working-class Catholics, so the candidate turned to Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, a Harvard law grad, devout Catholic, and strong opponent of abortion.

It soon emerged that during the 1960s Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression and undergone electroshock treatment. As Eagleton explained, he drove himself too hard, and that resulted in nervous exhaustion and fatigue.

For leading Democrats during the Cold War, that raised questions of stability. After 18 days, McGovern dumped Eagleton for Sargent Shriver, husband of Eunice Kennedy and part of Democratic Party royalty.

Nixon crushed McGovern by 23 points in the popular vote. The South Dakota leftist won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. McGovern ran again in 1984 but dropped out after the New Hampshire primary. He visited his old friend Fidel Castro in 2011 and died the following year, the most radical leftist to run for president since Henry Wallace.

Thomas Eagleton served two more terms in the Senate and died in 2007. In 1972, he always knew where he was and never chose truth over facts. Still, the Democratic Party in 2019 might leave him confused.

As a devout Catholic and strong opponent of abortion, Thomas Eagleton would not be welcome in the Democratic Party, let alone as the party’s presidential candidate. Abortion-supporter Joe Biden comes billed as a centrist alternative to far-left, McGovern-like candidates such as socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who honeymooned in the Soviet Union.

Biden is also cast as an alternative to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who for years told the world she is Cherokee when she is not. As Warren explained in her book “A Fighting Chance,” if you have a business, you didn’t build it yourself. So the fake Cherokee is not exactly a champion of free markets, entrepreneurship and independent initiative.

Even so, Biden, for eight years the second-most-powerful man in the world, is the one setting out to prove “I’m not going nuts.” There has been talk of limiting his public appearances, but no calls for the party to dump Biden, as McGovern dumped Eagleton.

As the record confirms, that was not a winning strategy. Meanwhile, 2020 is right around the corner. As the president likes to say, we’ll see what happens.

Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the nonprofit Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.