Fifty years ago today, August 1, 1972, Thomas Eagleton withdrew from the Democratic ticket for Vice President. I was 10, living in a staunchly Republican household. But we didn’t cheer Eagleton’s withdrawal for two reasons.
First, a Missourian on any presidential ticket was exciting, so it was a disappointment to lose that.
Second, he withdrew due to backlash from having received electroshock therapy, a treatment that my mother had also received. She deemed it insulting to believe that mental health treatment should disqualify someone. It was the people running around with undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems that weren’t qualified.
1972 was our family’s biggest foray into politics, so I thought I’d share my early political memories today.
My brother, Dale, says that he remembers a story that I was put in a highchair as a two-year-old and assigned the job of handing out Barry Goldwater leaflets at an event in 1964 — an effective strategy because it was just so cute.
I have a vague memory of Dale and me wearing white straw boaters with blue and red ribbons at some outdoor political rally in Utah. Maybe 1968? We moved to Missouri in November of that year, so my family couldn’t have been very active. Although I’m sure that my parents voted for Nixon, presumably in Utah before they left. They may have even timed the move to make sure that they could vote.
Living in a small town, it wasn’t that unusual for local and state-wide politicians to show up at any events where they were welcomed. That’s how we met Kit Bond when he was running for Missouri Governor in 1972. I remembered or, apparently, fabricated a story that Dale and Kit Bond had a fried chicken eating contest. Dale says that I’m confused — he had a jokey competition going with our family doctor at that event, but Kit Bond sat at the head table while we were just part of the audience. My story’s better.
My dad was a delegate at the Republican State Convention in 1972. This was back when the party’s candidates were chosen at the convention, not in a primary. It was in Springfield and the whole family went down, but I’m sure that my mother kept us kids entertained at the motel pool during most of the sessions. Dale remembers getting dressed up and going to the Convention Hall where someone tried to hand him a button for the ‘wrong’ candidate–one that we weren’t supporting. I remember being in the balcony for the final celebration, including a balloon drop. Dale doesn’t remember that, and we already established that I over-dramatize my memories, so the balloons might be from my imagination.
Dad was a regional campaign director for one of the Republican candidates for state-wide office. The family car was a green Dodge Dart that went remarkably well with the giant wooden sign on the roof. It was white, painted with green words: George Parker for State Treasurer.
Dale and I came up with three reasons why we think that 1972 was the end of active politics in our family.
1. George Parker lost. Politics aren’t that much fun when you lose.
2. This is a somewhat odd story, but Dale and I have identical memories. My parents, particularly my mother, believed that the Republican Committewoman of our township promised tickets to Nixon’s inauguration. They were so convinced of the promise that plans were being made for the trip to DC before they discovered that the tickets weren’t going to materialize. Mother held a grudge.
3. And, the obvious reason, Watergate. Dale said that he asked Mother if she still liked Nixon after he resigned. She said, “He wasn’t who I thought he was.” And, particularly, mentioned the way that Nixon talked on the infamous tapes.
Dale and I both remember politics in much the same way that we remember baseball. Our family rooted for the Republicans and the Cardinals. Other families rooted for the Democrats and the Cubs. It’s hard to know, now, if that’s because we were children or if politics have changed.
Now that I’m an activist, I end up on the edges of politics through a different path. Sometimes my friends, fellow activists, run for office. I’ll hand out leaflets at a polling location tomorrow for Trish Gunby who is running for Congress in Missouri’s 2nd District.
If you live in the 2nd, ask for the Democrat ballot and vote for Trish in the primary so that we can vote for her in November.