By Wednesday morning, scores of bloggers and pundits were comparing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to Tom Eagleton, the Missouri senator whose abortive selection as George McGovern’s 1972 running mate helped doom the Democrat’s challenge to President Richard Nixon.
Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft seems to have been the first to invoke the Eagleton comparison, within hours of John McCain’s announcement of his running mate, but she had plenty of company after Monday’s news that Palin’s teenage daughter is pregnant. Richard Gizbert of Huffington Post flatly pronounced Palin “the new Thomas Eagleton” and predicted that she would withdraw “within the next week or so.” By Tuesday, Joshua Green of the Atlantic Monthly had an article online examining the comparison in detail.
Yet nothing in the attacks that Democrats or the media have made against Palin compares to the scandal that brought down Eagleton — a hidden history of severe mental illness he hadn’t disclosed to McGovern before his selection as running mate. And judging from the way Republicans have rallied to Palin’s defense, it seems highly unlikely she will be bumped from the ticket.
Indeed, the spectacle of a media feeding frenzy over a working mother and her pregnant teenager seems to have produced a backlash that could have an effect quite the opposite of what Palin’s enemies originally imagined. She may yet turn out to be the anti-Eagleton — that rare choice of a running mate who makes a positive difference in a presidential election.
Firestorm and backlash
Democrats initially slammed McCain’s selection of the relatively unknown 44-year-old governor as a weak contrast to Barack Obama’s choice of 65-year-old Sen. Joe Biden. Clinton aide Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) called the Palin pick evidence of “political panic” by the GOP. Obama spokesman Bill Burton mocked Palin as “the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience.”
Palin’s staunch conservatism, however, made her an instant favorite of many who had previously been skeptical toward the maverick McCain. David Keene of the American Conservative Union predicted she would help energize those who have previously been “lukewarm” about McCain’s candidacy, and polls indicated the addition of Palin to the ticket immediately narrowed the “enthusiasm gap” that has plagued the Republicans this year.
“Palin’s selection … clearly is firing up the GOP rank and file,” Rasmussen Reports found in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, with 57 percent of Republicans saying they were “eager to vote for McCain. Previous surveys have not shown this level of GOP enthusiasm.”
The real firestorm began when left-wing bloggers floated bizarre Internet rumors that Palin’s infant son was actually her grandson. Monday, the Palins announced that their 17-year-old daughter was pregnant. The National Enquirer claimed this was in response to their questions, although Time magazine reported that daughter Bristol’s pregnancy with her hockey-player fiancé was no secret in their hometown.