Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson

March 25th, 2008 at 3:54 pm

“I always wanted to get into politics, but I was never light enough to make the team.” – Art Buchwald


From Hillary to how we eat, this cruel prose, now 36-years-old, is still as relevant and incisive as it ever was. Everyone deserves a dose of HST’s literary LSD-25 These Days, the ol’ fear and loathing. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is a raw, worthwhile Thompson-hit of black acid. So stick your tongue out.

Thompson’s political pondering is comprised mostly of the literary equivalent of adrenaline, bile, and dark humor. Until you realize that HST is being absolutely serious. It’s like Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, some realities are so sick and twisted that you can’t play them straight. I can’t imagine anyone being able to untangle and analyze American Culture without having at least an iota of the paranoia, fear, and vindictiveness that Thompson naturally displays:

“And how many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote for something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?”

Bush and Gore? Bush and Kerry? McCain and Clinton?

“The assholes who run politics in this country have become so mesmerized by the Madison Avenue school of campaigning that they actually believe, now, that all it takes to become a Congressman or a Senator – or even a President – is a nice set of teeth, a big wad of money, and a half-dozen Media Specialists.”

As a betting man, a sports fan, and a sportswriter, politics and a presidential campaign are a perfect venue for HST.

“Political analysis was never my game, anyway. All I do is wander around and make bets with people, and so far I’ve done pretty well.”

He acerbically cuts through the bullshit with his wit and panache to reveal all the dirty details, maneuvers, statistics, and back-alley backstabbing of a presidential campaign.

“Superstar politicians and superstar quarterbacks have the same kind of delicate egos, and people who live on that level grow accustomed to very thin, rarified air. They have trouble breathing in lower altitudes; and if they can’t breathe right, they can’t function.”

Thompson’s imagery makes for the perfect metaphors to politics. His intimacy with subcultures, dark sects, and the dirty secrets of society come to a nice head when his potent powers converge to examine the ruthless world of politics. His fascination and enjoyment of guns, violence, explosions, and the rougher side of life find a worthy match when he is thrown into the brutal, unforgiving, outlaw landscape that is an American Presidential Election:

“A man on the scent of the White House is rarely rational. He is more like a beast in heat: a bull elk in the rut, crashing blindly through the timber in a fever for something to fuck. Anything! A cow, a calf, a mare – any flesh and blood beast with a hole in it.”

And beyond the paranoia, the drug-fueled ramblings, and indulgent digressions, Thompson is one smart sonofabitch. His analysis, journalism, and sheer unrivaled, unrequited gumption is not something to ignore or dismiss:

“This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it – that we are really just a nation of 220 million [300 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.”

Thompson is a fascinating writer to read because of his unforgiving honesty, his crude humanity. Reading him, you ride the roller coaster of his depression, his anger, his child-like excitement, and his incessant doubt and fear. His prose tumbles along with him, a textual mirror of his obsessive criticism. His diction oscillates from rambling diatribes to poignant observations to hilarious conjectures and dark, brooding epiphanies. His words remain remarkably fresh and true, the authentic thoughts of an uncompromised man, an individual continually mesmerized and haunted by the tortuous labyrinth of civilization that man had built around him.

“Liberalism itself has failed, and for pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”

“The time had [has?] come to abolish the whole concept of the presidency as it exists now, and get a sort of City Manager-type president…We’ve come to the point where every four years this national fever rises up – this hunger for the Saviour, the White Knight, the Man on Horseback – and whoever wins becomes so immensely powerful, like Nixon [Bush?] is now, that when you vote for President today you’re talking about giving a man dictatorial power for four years. I think it might be better to have the President sort of like the King of England – or the Queen – and have the real business of the presidency conducted by…a City Manager-type, a Prime Minister, somebody who’s directly answerable to Congress, rather than a person who moves all his friends into the White House and does whatever he wants for four years. The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand.”

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