Fear And Loathing ’16 Is Here: Gonzo’s Most Important Campaign Wisdoms
Ed’s a good man,’ he said. ‘He’s honest. I respect the guy.’ Then he stabbed the padded seat arm between us two or three times with his forefinger. ‘But the main reason I’m working for him,’ he said, ‘is that he’s the only guy we have who can beat Nixon.’ ” — FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ’72
A few weeks ago, KTB ran an article talking about how Bernie is the new McGovern in the much-contested Muskie/McGovern primary of 1972. It was a brilliant analysis, considering that most of the Berners either don’t remember or never knew Big Ed Muskie existed. That sent me scrambling to dig up my old copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s classic collection of essays about his year spent following the 1972 campaign, the very election that nominated far-left freak/youth/protest power George McGovern to take on the evil specter of Nixon only to lose handily in the general election. And mind you he lost even WITH Watergate already enveloping old tricky Dick.
I was able to glean a few lessons from the good doctor of Gonzo’s reportage. These ancient wisdoms must be passed down to those still on the fence about Hill/Bern (and even those heavy Berners) so that we don’t repeat history.
With the Republican field down to Trump or Cruz, this, as HRC said, “may be one of the most consequential campaigns of our lifetimes.” Let’s be honest, Cruz is really the only candidate with the potential to do more harm to our nation than Trump. And there has been no campaign more thoroughly fueled by fear and loathing than that of El Señor Drumpf.
Of course there are differences between ’72 and ’16: Hillary is much more polished, accomplished in the national arena, smarter and cooler than Ed Muskie ever was; McGovern had much more respected backers but also a much bigger desire to be accepted by the establishment than does Bernie. The democratic field that year looked more like the GOP this year, with countless candidates (who among you knows anything about Shirley Chisholm? Yeah, she was thought to be McGovern’s main competition for the radical vote). Trump has a much more passionate base than did Nixon, and Trump’s politics resemble Bernie’s to a frightening degree compared the the wide Nixon/McGovern divide. And considering how tame our current American society has become, Bernie’s ideas seem more revolutionary now than McGovern’s did then; he merely echoed the teeming mass of youth rioters’ protest placards of his era.
But all the revolutionary ideas in the world aren’t worth a damn thing if you don’t have the influence, connections, experience and ruthless determination to see them through. So let’s look at the last time the cool radical won the Democratic nomination over the establishment favorite, as seen through the eyes of arguably the most radical counter-culture journalist in modern American history, a man whose McGovern love would easily transfer to a Berning yearning today. At least it would if he forgot the lessons from his first go-round with the outside-the-box leftist campaign.
Still don’t think Bernie is the new McGovern? Here are 5 quotes from a voice no doubt plenty of Bernie supporters respect that’ll prove we’ve been here before. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of our history, folks.
Youth Power at the Polls? Never Really Seen It
The odd truth that almost everybody in Washington who is paid to analyze & predict the behavior of Vote Blocs seems to feel that the much-publicized ‘youth vote’ will not be a Major Factor in the ’72 presidential campaign would be a hell of a lot easier to accept if it weren’t for actual figures …
“In a close election even ten percent of that bloc would mean 2.5 million votes … Think of it: Only ten percent! Two and a half million. Enough — even according to Nixon’s own wizards — to swing almost any election.”
Bernie is winning over the youth vote (though there are some racial outliers). There are a lot of young people out there supporting him; they’re full of fire and fury and piss and vinegar and that will be enough to carry Bernie over the Trump hump and change the world, surely. Not since the late 60s and early 70s have there been so many young voters so engaged, so passionate, so ready to make a difference.
Feel the Bern, they say. The all-consuming nature of an undeniable wildfire will carry us — we have enough young Berners and they’re all cool. There are even celebrities, and young and impressionable people listen to celebrities.
Thing is the youth vote is like Sasquatch. It arouses a lot of passion and hype and we’re all pretty sure it exists in some way but nobody’s actually ever seen it. At least not while sober.
Just A Coupl’A Good Guys On Campaign
This is the soft underbelly of the ‘McGovern problem.’ He is really just another good Democrat, and the only thing that sets him apart from the others is a hard, almost masochistic kind of honesty that drives him around the country, running up huge bills and turning people off.”
Everybody likes Bernie. He’s the radical uncle we wish we had; sharp and passionate despite his age, still shaking his stick at the man when most of his contemporaries have taken on heavy shades of conservatism; and of course there’s the Bronx-Jewish accent, the true way to any American’s heart. Bernie tells it like it is — castigating the demons of Wall Street, besmirching Hillary’s record as part of an atavistic system, howling for the flesh of the conservatives who have a leg up on the young and the middle class and want to keep those people from gaining back ground.
Everything he says is true, at a certain level. The system is more than a little bit rigged; finance bigwigs and ratings execs should’ve been taken to task for playing high and fast with money that they had promised was being invested prudently (apparently bringing about the great recession isn’t deserved of punishment?). Hillary isn’t fully trustworthy and American politics is full of backdoor deals and loopholes so rotten they can only be compared to a rapist walking because the arresting officer forgot to read him his Miranda Rights.
But a huge part of politics is working with people on all sides to get things done, regardless the scumbaggery of your colleagues. And Bernie’s indictments of the powerful, of the system, of the wealthy will only be another roadblock to his governance and possibly even to his necessary victory over Adolf Trump. Hillary knows how to stand up to a Congress stacked against her; Hillary also has the political know-how to play the game and with Slick Willy behind her, no doubt she’ll be able to get some politicos to cross the aisle. If you thought the GOP’s elected representatives didn’t want to work with Obama, a man who took the White House under promises to work with all sides and has been nothing if not a modicum of compromise his whole presidency (save the last 2 years or so), wait to see how they stonewall the Socialist ex-hippie if only because they know their electorate will ask for their recall if they agree with him.
Our Nation Needs A Radical Redirection
And even that far-left radical bastard, George McGovern — babbling a maddening litany of his most Far Out ideas — would be hard-pressed to crank up any more than a 30 percent animosity quotient.”
This was Hunter S. Thompson early in McGovern’s campaign, when McGovern was still the underdog and the good Doctor was just getting into political journalism. As he grew to discover that Muskie was more of the same especially following a few Muskie missteps, and as HST’s freak vote inclinations got the better of his cynical judgment, he threw in with McGovern and soon rode the swell to the front of the bus.
In the 1970s, America was going through arguably its greatest social upheaval since 1773, with civil rights, women’s lib, gay rights, anti-war fury and general boomer rebellion coming together into one tumultuous brew. McGovern had all of that backing him and then in the general election he changed directions. His self-sabotage was listening to advisors, who told him to add a conservative running mate (who eventually turned out to be an ECT recipient and all-around holy rolling nutjob) and pulling back from some of his wildest ideas as there’s no getting around the fact: to win a general election, you need to sway some of the independents who would reject an extreme candidate. Despite that, the GOP built a campaign around his radicalism by decrying what McGovern was for: “Acid, Amnesty and Abortion.”
That was enough to get every God-fearing WWII vet to the polls while those passionate youthful McGovern supporters were likely enjoying too much of a world full of drug use, draft-dodging and rampant sex to remember to get out to the polls as they had promised.
With One Huge Difference — Bernie Has No Pedigree
So it is probably fair to assume that if Bobby Kennedy were alive today — and somehow retired from politics — he would agree with almost everything McGovern says and stands up for.”
McGovern’s campaign was run by Bobby Kennedy’s most trusted consigliere (Frank Mankiewicz), Bobby Kennedy’s voice was used on McGovern ads, Ted Kennedy eventually gave Ol’ George the nod of support. The Kennedys, especially back then with Camelot still a near memory and none of the JFK revelations widely discussed, were political royalty. And McGovern was the closest to a Kennedy running for the White House. Yet it all unraveled in the general election.
Whereas Bernie mixes Willie Stark populism with left-wing liberalism that in this day and age will draw comparisons to Che Guevara. Whatever happened to those Che shirts all the kids were wearing for a while? Right, they had to get jobs.
But Who Needs Political Pedigree?
The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes and all his imprecise talk about ‘new politics’ and ‘honesty in government,’ is one of the few men who’ve run for President of the United States this century who really 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.”
Part of Bernie’s appeal to so many people is he isn’t a “politician” in the traditional sense; he doesn’t play games, doesn’t disdain to lower himself to fitting into the systsm. And for this reason alone he’s not going to WIN the presidency. Not to say he wouldn’t be a good president (though the shaky foundation of his plans and the lack of practicality for the execution of his revolutions speak volumes about his eventual ineffectiveness in the White House). But whichever demagogue he goes against in the general will likely tear him apart.
Ted Cruz is the leading figure of the tea party, a grassroots organization that has usurped an American event they don’t even understand (it was REALLY a rebellion against corporate interests in government, not against government itself) and based on bluster and a vague notion of obstructionism brought about the downfall of two of the most powerful Republicans in America (and arguably the GOP in general). He’s a man comfortable being hated as long as he gets his way, which he seemingly always does — or if he doesn’t, he finds some way to deflect his failings onto somebody else, like a T-1000 Terminator fighting to bring about an America run by Christian shariah law.
Donald Trump is a showman second to none. The devolution of America’s top public office to reality TV show was inevitable from the first time somebody got voted off the island and definitely from Simon Cowell’s wonder years when “American Idol” drew Super Bowl ratings. If the Donald and Bernie went head to head, Trump’s charisma and intimate understanding of the 24-hour news cycle and its buzzword-driven ratings machine would leave the cantankerous Vermont firebrand uttering malapropisms and trying to rationalize with a blowhard who’s learned long ago rationality isn’t the way into America’s heart. It will take somebody like Hillary, who’s been getting dirty in the trenches for over two decades, who’s been tested by a vindictive opposition calling for her head one overblown scandal after another, who knows how to speak and doublespeak and spout meaningless sound bytes, to take down this monster.
Eight years ago we needed somebody noble and idealistic to get in there and turn things around; to replace “the guy you’d want to meet for a beer” with the guy you hire to fix your foundering tech company while also inspiring you to be a better person. We needed to move away from corporate croneyism that awarded no-bid contracts to the VP’s company, away from a spoiled scion controlled by former presidents’ advisors. The country was ready for Change and Hope and all of that. Obama came in with majorities in the House and the Senate and boasting a desire to work with all sides. And he did the worst thing to the Republican party he possibly could — he made some compromises but in the end succeeded.
Things are better for a lot of Americans. And changes have come and are continuing to come. But with so much change, a large portion of America feels left behind; even more, they feel embarrassed for having predicted the changes would ruin us. Maybe progressivism actually does work? Egads!
They’re looking to dig in their heels and despite America being measurably better than the junkshow our nation was 8 years ago, they’re still claiming it’s time to roll back all that has led to our prosperity. And when the opposition becomes entrenched, you don’t send in the people with the best intentions to continue pushing; the untested and idealistic, ready to become heroes despite their lack of time in the field. You send in the one who’s battle-tested and isn’t afraid to get dirty.
Bernie has pushed Hillary leftward; he’s opened up real conversations in the Democratic party, conversations that some Dem young gun like Martin O’Malley may take up one day to realize Bernie’s vision, the way on the other side Reagan mimicked Goldwater to great conservative success. And considering the rightward creep of our nation as a whole, any movement Bernie has inspired in the other direction is a damn good thing.
But now it’s time to turn the attention to taking on one of two men: on one side the hate-filled blowhard just one incitement away from lynchings or at least a fist-fueled manslaughter; on the other the creepy wannabe preacher who believes the government’s place isn’t in our streets but instead in our bedrooms. Even more, with a Bernie win mathematically EXTREMELY unlikely, every bit of support we give him takes away from the support we need to start pouring Hillary’s way for her battle against the demons on the right.
Bernie is a wild card, with lofty ambitions that would likely never make it past the doormat of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave before the weasels on Capitol Hill use his bills as much toilet paper. Hillary is a known entity, the Ed Muskie who’d been a damn good VP candidate in ’68 before Hubert Humphrey botched the presidency. Considering the revelations of Bernie’s checkered past with relation to women and minorities that have come up during what a rather polite Democratic primary, god only knows what the elephants will have him tripping over in the general. The Bernie Bros won’t be able to make up for the women and Latinos who won’t vote for anybody but Hill-dog.
And considering his lack of experience in the war zone, living in front of cameras and being verbally waterboarded by angry solons, I can’t help but think the naivete of his radical agenda is a hint at some strong underlying incompetence fueled by delusion. To close it up as only the good Doctor Thompson could:
There was nothing they could do … no issue they could manufacture, no act they could commit … or anything they could say … that would change people’s minds on the question of McGovern’s competence to get anything done, regardless of what he wanted to get done. In other words, there were a lot of people who liked him, liked what he said — but who wouldn’t vote for him because he seemed like a bumbler.”