Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, June 16, 2001

That was the difference between Chicago and Miami. If the cops in Chicago had found me crawling in somebody’s front yard, wearing a “press” tag and blind from too much gas, they’d have broken half my ribs and then hauled me away in handcuffs for “resisting arrest”.

This is a powerful look at the 1972 presidential campaigns, well worth reading, and recommended for anyone interested in a turning point in the Democratic Party.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
AuthorHunter S. Thompson
Year1973
Length512 pages
Book Rating7

A detailed look at the Democratic primaries, and the McGovern vs. Nixon race that followed. Ralph Steadman’s illustrations fit perfectly, as usual with Thompson’s writings. The description of the behind-the-scenes Democratic National Convention in Miami is probably used in political textbooks.

Hovering about this book like a grim god is Richard Milhouse Nixon, Thompson’s antichrist, though Hubert Humphrey fills that role in the beginning (perhaps a Wormtongue to Nixon’s Saruman). About Humphrey: “He should be buried with his head down in the sand. I’ve never been so disgusted with a human being in politics.”

This is a big book. It covers the 1972 primaries and showdown in excruciating detail. This was an incredible election, with Richard Nixon running against George McGovern in the end, but including such folks as George Wallace, Teddy Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey hanging out in the background. Thompson gets a ride with Richard Nixon and talks football.

But this is stone bullshit. There are only two ways to make it in big-time politics today: One is to come on like a mean dinosaur, with a high-powered machine that scares the shit out of your entrenched opposition (like Daley or Nixon)... the other is to tap the massive, frustrated energies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to choose immediately between a Ford and a Chevy.

Thompson covers three basic stories: the Democratic primaries, which turns out to be a two-way race between Humphrey and McGovern after Wallace gets shot; the Democratic National Convention, which has got to be the best reporting on byzantine party maneuvering I’ve ever read; and the presidential race, which is mostly a letdown (we all know who wins--and then resigns before his term is up). The big story is the Democratic National Convention. McGovern has a majority. But not enough of a majority to keep his majority if his majority is challenged. That is, some of those votes were built on a shaky foundation. Humphrey wanted to topple McGovern. Could they be excluded? Portioned out? Could someone other than any of those running in the primaries be elected the Democratic candidate? Hell, read the story.

The Anybody But McGovern movement came together officially sometime in the middle of the week just before the convention, when it finally became apparent that massive fraud, treachery, or violence was the only way to prevent McGovern from getting the nomination... and what followed, once this fact was accepted by all parties involved, will hopefully go down in history as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Democratic process.

As usual, this book is a combination of Thompson’s eagle-eyed reporting and his Burroughs-like ramblings. In style, the book is much closer to the reporting he did in “Hell’s Angels”, and far, far away from the fictional reporting style of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. It’s an incredibly fascinating read, especially if you’re a fan of political thrillers or political history.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972

Hunter S. Thompson

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

If you enjoyed Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972…

If you enjoy Hunter S. Thompson, you might also be interested in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A dark and bloody ground: Hunter S. Thompson, Hunter S. Thompson Dead, Better Than Sex, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Generation of Swine, Hell’s Angels, Songs of the Doomed, and The Great Shark Hunt.

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