Thursday, August 11, 2016

This May Be The Best Single Paragraph Of Political Journalism Anyone Ever Wrote

I surely am not the only jounalist to wish Hunter S. Thompson was still alive to cover this presidential election. 
Dr. Thompson was the progenitor of Gonzo journalism, typically first-person narratives written without even a veneer of objectivity, and most famously was the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Don't even think of seeing the movie starring Johnny Depp; read the damned book, okay?) 
One of the doctor's lesser known works is Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail ’72, an evisceration of the political system that excreted a presidential campaign climaxing most definitely in the non-sexual sense with the spectacle of Richard Nixon clocking George McGovern to win reelection.   
Dr. Thompson's description of McGovern's maneuverings at the Miami convention to deny Hubert Humphrey the Democratic nomination is priceless, and despite the author's disavowal of objectivity is first-rate journalism. The book also featured the debut of the first-generation fax machine, which the doctor dubbed "the mojo wire" and used to transmit his reliably indecipherable if brilliant prose to Rolling Stone magazine on -- and often after -- deadline. 
I met Dr. Thompson twice, once in Aspen, Colorado in the summer of 1974 when he was running for Pitkin County sheriff on the Freak Ticket, and again a few years later in the Florida Keys.  He had already proven himself to be incapable of sustaining his brilliance. Being a gun nut, drug abuser and consumer of massive quantities of hard liquor had pretty much put him on the suicide track, although it would be a fair number of years before he blew out what was left of his brains, appropriately at the height of the Bush years, in 2005. 
Anyhow, I agree with the incomparable Charles Pierce of Esquire magazine that this excerpt from Campaign Trail '72 might be the best single paragraph of political journalism anyone ever wrote:  
"This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say I — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.  George McGovern, for all his mistakes . . .  understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.  Jesus!  Where will it end?  How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?" 
 Eerily prescient or what? 

Photograph: Thompson chats up McGovern. From the Everett Collection. 

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