“People who would like to do the right thing, but who just can’t get it up.”
I think what most people seem to be tired of are the sort of lint-headed, wooly-minded – what a lot of people call do-gooders – people who would like to do the right thing, but who just can’t get it up. That kind of candidate is going out of style.
That’s Hunter S. Thompson, describing the failure of George McGovern to beat Richard Nixon. Almost 50 years ago. And yet…
Jimmy Carter in 76
Mondale in 84
HW in 88 and 92
Al Gore in 2000
John Kerry in 2004
Mitt Romney in 2012
HRC in 2016
Ronald Reagan got it up. Bill Clinton, um, got it up. Barack Obama and George W. Bush both seem like do-gooders on the surface. But both of them got it up – Barack Obama with personal grace and high-minded rhetoric, GWB with big-hearted, frat-boy back-slapping.
Maybe Dr. Thompson was right, but it took us a while to catch up. A mojo-less candidate hasn’t won a presidential election since HW in 1988, though a couple have won the popular vote (Gore, HRC). And Trump defeated a slew of milquetoast do-gooders in 2016 – Jeb, Marco, Kasich, HRC.
I’m reading HST’s classic Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. This is the Bible of American political journalism, and it seems that most modern political journalists – while not actively trying to emulate Dr. Thompson – imagine that they would write something similar if they weren’t constrained by timid editors, corporate travel budgets, and other annoying market forces.
This is the first book by Dr. Thompson that I’ve ever read. And it’s quite something. I do fear that someone trying to imitate him might miss the pieces that make the book so special. You might be able to mimic the careening style… or the naïve idealism masked with cynicism… or the admission of bias… or the star-fucking . But are you also willing to be brutally honest? Do you love other people — not just the stars, but the stars too — as much as Dr. Thompson does?
And once someone has done this particular thing, do we need anyone else to do it again?
Two weeks ago, I knew very little about the 1972 election other than that McGovern was a pretty liberal dude who lost to Nixon. And now I’m convinced that American politics is still churning on the same wheel it’s been on since the 1960’s. And 2020 is likely to be a rerun of 1972. I put the over/under on Trump’s margin of victory at 23 points.
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