Kevin White, Mr. Vice President

Interesting front-page Memory Lane piece in Tuesday’s New York Times about the vice-presidential kerfuffle George McGovern (D-Amnesty, Abortion and Acid) created in 1972.

Hasty and Ruinous 1972 Pick Colors Today’s Hunt for a No. 2

WASHINGTON — Scott Lilly was a young member of Senator George McGovern’s presidential campaign staff in the summer of 1972, and he remembers the satisfaction he felt when Mr. McGovern chose Mr. Lilly’s home-state senator to be the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate.

But a few days after the convention that nominated Mr. McGovern and his running mate, Senator Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri, Mr. Lilly said, he came to a realization. “It suddenly struck me out of the blue that they didn’t know,” he said, that the decision to pick Mr. Eagleton had been made without some crucial facts.

And he was right. The information he had felt obligated to share with a top campaign aide several weeks before — that Mr. Eagleton had been hospitalized for mental health issues — had never been passed on. Mr. Lilly’s tip “did not register,” the aide, Frank Mankiewicz, said in an interview this year. “It was a very hectic time. I must have had not two things on my mind, but maybe 80.”

But then just one: Eagleton had to go.

And as Eagleton went, so went McGovern.

But the Times piece reminds us, McGovern had another last-minute candidate:

Exhausted after a long underdog campaign battling the Democratic Party establishment, Mr. McGovern and his aides spent the early days of the convention fighting off a last-minute challenge to the winner-take-all rule that had given him all the California delegates. On July 13, 1972, with the nomination finally his, Mr. McGovern turned his attention to selecting his running mate.

Until then, Mr. McGovern had focused on only one person, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. After a long courtship, Mr. Kennedy rejected the offer a final time, and Mr. McGovern then tried and failed to interest two of his closest friends in the Senate, Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota and Gaylord A. Nelson of Wisconsin, in the position. His aides focused on the mayor of Boston, Kevin H. White, and Mr. Eagleton. They immediately realized that they had little information about either one.

Certainly White’s peccadilloes were less toxic than Eagleton’s. And think about how choosing White would have changed history.

Not that McGovern would have won the presidency (Abbie Hoffman probably had a better chance). But Boston’s history would have changed dramatically.

And speaking of drama, here’s the McGovern vice presidential rumpus from another angle (via WBUR’s White obit):

White’s profile became more prominent and caught the attention of S.D. Sen. George McGovern, 1972′s Democratic nominee for president. [White’s former press secretary Dick] Flavin says White was McGovern’s pick as a running mate.

“So, he called up Kevin White and offered him the job,” Flavin says. “Then someone said, ‘Did you clear this through Kennedy?’ and he said, ‘No, but he’ll be all right with it.’ Well, you better call him. So McGovern called Kennedy, and the fact was that Ted was not all right with it because if Kevin White became the vice presidential candidate, then he became the most prominent political figure in Massachusetts. And Ted was not happy with that prospect.”

McGovern rescinded the earlier offer, putting an end to White’s national aspirations.

White remained in Boston to preside over school desegregation, the revitalization of downtown Boston, and the dejailification of the Rolling Stones.

“The Stones have been busted, but I have sprung them!” he told an audience at Boston Garden (via

All in all, a decent trade-off.


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4 Responses to Kevin White, Mr. Vice President

  1. Somewhat on-topic: the current method by which VP candidates are chosen undercuts any claims this country has to being a Democracy.

    This is not an over-statement. The fact is, every four years, someone — often someone absolutely no one voted for — is simply selected by one of the two parties, and vaulted to the top of the national political scene. All “hill of warm spit” jokes aside, we have this process to thank for both Bush presidencies, The Cheney Decade, Sarah Palin’s “career,” Al Gore’s candidacy in 2000, Joe Lieberman’s Surrender at Jacksonville — the list goes on.

    And it’s about to happen again: Mitt Romney may well pick a future President of the United States out of thin air in the next couple of weeks.

    It is this more than anything else that belies this country’s true nature: it’s a business — where future leaders are selected by the current ones — not a democracy. The last 30 years have literally been shaped by people who were simply selected by the parties to be VP candidates; absent G.H.W.B’s being on the ticket in 1980, the next 30 years would have been completely different.

    The parties’ VP candidates should automatically be the 2nd highest primary vote-getter — period. Think how much more serious they’d be about their candidates if that were the case. No more El Douche’s, no more Newts, no more Bachmanns, no more Liebermans — etc.

    • BP Myers says:

      I understand your point, however by your own logic, as the second highest vote getter in the primaries, G.H.W.B. would have been on the ticket anyway in 1980, and the last thirty years might have proceeded exactly as they did (absent Cheney, but if it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else.) I’d point out too that in olden days, the parties themselves essentially chose the presidential candidates. So we’re making progress.

      • Fine, GHWB was the 2nd highest in 1980; doesn’t change the larger point a whit. As for Dick Cheney — “if it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else”? That’s the point, isn’t it? This is democracy?

        There my be other people no one voted for that the GOP could have inserted into the 2000 GOP ticket. This is democracy? A guy no one voted for, representing a state with fewer people than live in a few blocks of Manhattan, becomes the most powerful man in the world?

        That there are others willing to do it is not much solace.

        If Ford had been willing in 1980, he would have been Reagan’s VP, merely by Reagan’s whim; is that democracy?

        So, what about Cheney? Palin? Lieberman? What about Nixon, for dog’s sake?

        This is progress? From what? Seriously — if this is progress and democracy, what did we have before?

  2. BP Myers says:

    The takeout I got from this was that when his country called, Ted Kennedy did not answer. I also realized that if something like this were to happen again, we’d never know it due to medical privacy laws. And it’s probably better that way.

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