Depression has come to be a little more understood over the last twenty years or so. For those who do not suffer from depression, it is totally misunderstood. You can not appreciate what it means to truly suffer from long term depression, clinical depression, unless you have been there.
The ignorance of depression was brought forth in the 1972 Presidential election. Senator George McGovern was on the way and would receive the Democratic nomination to run against the incumbent President Richard Nixon. It was an uphill climb for the Democrats that year. Senator Edmund Muskie had pulled out of the race after the Nixon campaign released the infamous "Canuck Letter" that brought tears to Muskie's eyes as he withdrew from the race. This opened the door for McGovern to become the nominee in 1972 for the democrats.
At the convention, McGovern chose Senator Thomas Eagleton from the great state of Missouri to be his Running mate. Eagleton had served the people of Missouri since 1960 holding various state offices and was in the midst of his first term as a United States Senator. He was known as a strong and honest politician who stood for what he believed in. He was well respected by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
Two weeks after the convention, it was revealed that the Senator had suffered from depression in his past. He had been hospitalized three times for depression and had received electro therapy for his disease. In spite of that, he had served Missouri well and no one would have guessed that he suffered from the disease.
When it came to light, Senator McGovern did the right thing and said that he had no plans of removing Eagleton from the ticket. As a matter of fact McGovern said he backed Eagleton one thousand percent. Two days later the thousand percent backing turned into zero percent and Eagleton was forced to resign his campaign for Vice-President. One of the Kennedy clan, Sargent Shriver. would replace Eagleton on the ticket. Shriver, while a good man, was not as strong a choice as Eagleton would have been. Add to that the fact the McGovern now seemed wishy washy for changing his mind on the Eagleton case, and a path was carved for President Nixon to win the election by one of the largest margins up until that time.
It was simply the ignorance of the disease and the ignorance of the treatment of the disease that removed Eagleton from the ticket. Eagleton suffered from depression, that is a fact. He never denied it. But he was under the care of doctors and was on medication that kept his depression in check. His depression did not effect his thinking process or his decision making. But leaders in the party decided that it was too big of a risk to take having someone who had gone through shock therapy and was diagnosed as depressed to hold high office in the land. They did not think the American people would vote for someone with such a major flaw. They were probably right. Depression, as much as it is misunderstood today on 2012, was much more misunderstood in 1972.
The people of Missouri weren't concerned about it however. Eagleton went on to serve another two terms as Senator from Missouri making his time in the Senate a total of eighteen years. He chaired committees and went about his usual business of doing what he thought was right. He was one of the most vocal of politicians when Nixon's bombing of Cambodia was brought into the public eye.
His colleagues held him in very high esteem all the way until his death in 2007. Some examples of what his fellow Congressmen and Senators had to say at his passing are plenty. Her are a few.
Fellow Senator John Danforth from Missouri who served as Eagleton's Junior Senator for ten years said “Tom Eagleton was an outstanding public servant throughout his career in elective politics and beyond, As a United States senator, he was highly respected on both sides of the aisle. He was a person of high principle and consistent good humor.”
Senator Edward Kennedy's remarks stated that “He made a difference on every issue he touched in the Senate, especially Vietnam. He’ll long be remembered for his outrage over the senseless bombing of Cambodia and for his leadership in the anti-war effort.”
I started following politics in 1968, when Tom Eagleton became my Senator. I was proud having him in the Senate for Missouri. It was an era when Missouri had some very good men in Congress and most of them were well known. Senator Stuart Symington was the senior Senator when Eagleton went to Washington. Representative Dick Bolling was my representative in the House.
I trusted Tom Eagleton and I was able to vote for him for re-election to his third and final term. Even though I am a moderate that leans to the right, I did not question my vote for Senator Eagleton. He had proved himself time and again as being smart, honest and a man of character. These kind of men are hard to come by. The fact that he had suffered from depression did not concern me at all. I didn't understand depression back then, but I knew that even if he was suffering from it, he was still capable of doing his job. I feel I voted correctly in that election.
Since that time I have developed the disease that cost Senator Eagleton a run for the Vice-Presidency. I understand what he was going through. I also understand that you can suffer form this disease on a continual basis and still perform your job. You can still think. You can still make sound decisions. Depression is tough to be sure and it can become a little debilitating at times, but by the time 1972 rolled around the Senator had his depression well under control and proved it up until he left the Senate in January of 1987.
Senator Eagleton died in 2007 but his legacy lives on. He is still considered one of the best Senators the state of Missouri has ever produced and he will be remembered for many many years in this great state.
As I fight my own demons with depression and struggle to keep going, the Senator is one of the figures I look up to. I think I will always look up to him and admire what he accomplished suffering the same disease that I do. Seeing what he accomplished gives me hope and strength to continue with my own depression.
I write this in honor of Senator Thomas F. Eagleton in hopes that some who read this might try to come to a better understanding of what depression and anxiety is, to educate yourselves and to realize that those of us who do have this disease, are still and can be functioning and contributors to society in a world gone madder than any one with depression could get.
Thank you Senator Eagleton.