[Book Review] Hunter Thompson and ’72 versus ’08

22 Jul


I returned from my trip to Canada a few days ago. While I was up there, I had a chance to read Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72. Most people associate Thompson with his magnum opus Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and not so surprisingly his epic drug habits.

On the Campaign Trail is not simply a quasi-factual run down of drug-crazed exploits (although that is certainly an entertaining element of the book). In fact, the book provides some very insightful political analysis, made all the more impressive by the fact that Thompson had not covered politics at length prior to the ’72 presidential campaign.

One thing that I found interesting about the book was the parallels that can be drawn between the ’72 campaign and this year’s contest. George McGovern is Barack Obama: the anti-war Democrat from the far left of the party who begins the primary season as an underdog but who is vaulted to forefront by an impressive grassroots movement, and ultimately secures the nomination. Richard Nixon is John McCain: the Republican who stubbornly does not see the quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from a failed and wasteful conflict (Vietnam is Iraq) as a priority. The two contests are not completely identical–Nixon was an incumbent, and a bit more conservative than McCain–but the parallels between the campaigns are important to note.

Democrats should hope that this year’s election is not a carbon copy of 1972, because McGovern was beaten by Nixon, and beaten badly. He ran into trouble by alienating many of his original supporters in the mad dash to the middle, backsliding on previous statements while pandering to conservative Democrats and Republicans, and making a disastrous choice of running mate (who turned out to have some severe mental illnesses). Obama should be very careful, then, in his own move to the center as he attempts to gain the support of independents and Republicans. Friends of mine have already expressed displeasure with his recent pledged support of faith-based organizations. I would argue that government investment in preexisting organizations, be they faith-based or not, will help fight poverty (thank you John Edwards) more effectively and cheaply than creating all-new, separate institutions. This of course then unravels into a whole separation of church and state question, which I’m not going to go into detail about here.

If poverty in this country can be fought more effectively through government support of faith-based organizations, then shouldn’t we focus on the ends and not get caught up on the means?

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