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Special Issue 2010, 40:5, pages 459 - 478

The Skeleton on the Couch: The Eagleton Affair, Rhetorical Disability, and the Stigma of Mental Illness

Abstract:  In 1972, vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton revealed to the American public that he had been hospitalized for depression on three occasions. The revelation seriously damaged the campaign of his running mate, George McGovern, and eventually led to Eagleton’s dismissal from the ticket. This essay seeks to understand the Eagleton Affair by showing how the stigma of mental illness functions as a form of rhetorical disability. Using a reading of stigma in ancient Greece and the work of Erving Goffman, this essay argues that stigma can be viewed as a constitutive rhetorical act that also produces a disabling rhetorical effect: kakoethos, or bad character.

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