Call Me Tom: The Life of Thomas F. Eagleton.
Thomas F. Eagleton is best--perhaps only--remembered as George S. McGovern's ill-starred running mate during the presidential election of 1972. Eagleton was the only person ever to resign from a national ticket, following disclosures that be had undergone shock therapy for treatment of depression. In this well-researched, crisply written biography--the first for the Missouri senator--James N. Giglio provides a full account of the so-called Eagleton Affair. McGovern, be concludes, acted "impulsively, indecisively, and carelessly" (105). He selected Eagleton without proper vetting, then pledged unstinting support for his embattled running mate, and ultimately jettisoned him. Eagleton, in contrast, allowed his ambition to overwhelm his sense of openness, for be failed to divulge his medical history to McGovern. Although both men drew considerable criticism, one of them came out the better. The Democratic nominee for president appeared weak and incompetent, while Eagleton "emerged as an underdog and a hero to many Americans" (129).
Giglio's biography goes beyond the controversy over Eagleton's health to analyze his politics and personality. The Missourian bore some likeness to John F. Kennedy--another Catholic politician who, like Eagleton, was more influenced by his father than his faith. Eagleton and JFK exuded youth, energy, and good looks while suffering serious health problems hidden from the public. Both men were willing to seek federal solutions to national problems without fully embracing big-spending, knee-jerk liberalism. Giglio might have pressed that last point further because Eagleton, in the realm of domestic policy, resembled a well-known moderate Republican, President Richard Nixon. Both men opposed busing to achieve racial balance as well as abortion. They backed environmental legislation, revenue sharing, an expanded Voting Rights Act, home rule for the District of Columbia, and cost-of-living indexes for Social Security recipients. On other issues, however, Eagleton remained independent. He attacked US involvement in Vietnam, acted to curb presidential power to make war, and frequently crossed swords with fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter. And, during the 1980s, Eagleton accepted the mantra of "Unreconstructed Roosevelt New Dealer" as he fought President Ronald Reagan's domestic agenda (181).
Giglio portrays Eagleton as an appealing individual. He despised pretense, insisted that associates call him "Tom," stayed loyal to friends and family, and was generous to those in need. The Missourian exhibited a sharp, often irreverent sense of humor and once closed a speech with the exhortation: "Go forth in love and peace--be kind to dogs--and vote Democratic" (248). He knew when to exit the senatorial stage (after three terms) and remained active in retirement by, among other things, teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, advising the Harry S. Truman Library, and helping the city of St. Louis acquire the Los Angeles Rams. Eagleton's senatorial accomplishments were thin--thinner than Giglio seems willing to stress. The few highlights included the 1979 bailout of Chrysler, the saving of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, and authorship of the Older Americans Act . Most important, Eagleton, despite herculean efforts, failed to secure the strongest possible War Powers Act. Partly as a result, US presidents continue to intervene overseas, in such countries as Lebanon and Grenada, Haiti and Bosnia, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq. Eagleton's criticism of the foreign policy of George W. Bush proved especially biting and prescient, which may account for Giglio's favorable take on him.
Overall, Call Me Tom is a model biography of a notable, if second-tier, United States senator. Giglio was diligent in combing Eagleton's extensive papers; shrewd in exploiting his feisty, quotable subject; and generally averse to overstating the Missourian's significance. Such modesty befits the title of this book and the character of its protagonist.
Dean J. Kotlowski
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|Author:||Kotlowski, Dean J.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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