Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2012 - Another Campaign



...politics is an art, not a science, you dumb bastards, and so the only real discoveries are made on the ground, amongst the contenders, the mobs and the chaos.” - Mark Grueter


Good advice from my friend commenting on Hunter S. Thompson’s, Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail ’72; unfortunately, most of us are unable to really experience this art of politics “on the ground.” Instead, politics is experienced through the instantaneous and sterilized frame of the mass (social) media machine. Then again, isn’t this where we always make our decisions -through the media? The public square looks much different today than it did in 1972. So, is it possible to experience politics “on the ground” in 2012?
Forty years ago, as the Democratic primary season was gearing-up to select its candidate to run against incumbent Republican President, Richard Nixon, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson rented an apartment in Washington D.C. (where “life runs fast and mean”...) to fully cover the campaign. Ultimately, much of his coverage took place on the road, “amongst the contenders, the mobs and the chaos.” For twelve-months, Thompson wrote an ongoing column documenting his experiences and thoughts while on the campaign trail through his signature “Gonzo" journalism. Back in 1972, there were no iPhones, MSNBC, internet, etc. - writing was still done on typewriters. There was not much room for error. To get his writing to the editors in San Francisco, Rolling Stone magazine even purchased an early model fax machine (which Thompson would come to call “that goddamn Mojo Wire”) to expedite the process of submitting material for publication under an always looming deadline. “There was never enough time.” Indeed; however, I lack sympathy for Thompson’s predicament - the age of Twitter makes it very difficult (if not, arguably, useless...) to reflect - let alone write- on anything.

Ultimately, the Democrats chose Senator George McGovern from South Dakota as their candidate in the general election. Despite McGovern’s idealism and popularity with “the youth vote”, Richard Nixon proved too formidable of an incumbent to beat. President Nixon -much to the dismay of Thompson- won the general election in a landslide. In the popular vote, Nixon received almost 18 million more votes than McGovern -the widest margin of any presidential election.

Times were much different forty years ago and, in ways, one could almost nostalgically look back on these “simpler" times. Of course, the work and cult of personality that has now become “the legend of Dr. Thompson” did much to romanticize an, admittedly, grim chapter in American history (as if any chapter isn’t grim...). Thompson had a way of making things more exciting, poetic, and interesting (than, arguably, they actually were). Perhaps, my nostalgia stems from being jaded with the current political climate? Or, maybe it’s the picture Thompson paints of a life always on the move? He writes that Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail ’72 was written “in airport bars, all-nite coffee shops, and dreary hotel rooms all over the country- there is hardly a paragraph in [his] jangled saga that wasn’t produced in a last-minute, teeth-grinding frenzy.” Such descriptions are an attractive alternative to an otherwise mundane nine-to-five reality of “experiencing” politics through the Huffington Post blog roll.

Although Thompson’s 1972 campaign was dramatically different than the 2012 election will likely be - what were the differences? Were there any similarities or parallels between the campaign of 1972 and the current political climate? Thompson was writing before Reagan and the birth of the “televised” presidency; accordingly, he precedes the Bush years, twenty-four-hour-a-day news-cycle, and Obama administration by decades. But what can be learned from reflecting on Thompson’s ’72 journey of “Fear and Loathing” and the election year that American political junkies are gearing up for now?

Thompson was not a serious political analysts and even admitted that his writings should be seen as more of “a jangled campaign diary than a record of reasoned analysis.” Although Thompson was a “political junkie”, he knew he wasn’t an expert; nevertheless, when flipping through the talking heads and pundits on every channel of the cable news networks or blogosphere, one asks - who really is an “expert” in this sordid game? Despite Thompson’s embellishments and exaggerations, there was something brutally honest about his take on the election of 1972. His purpose for traveling along on the campaign trail was “to learn as much as possible about the mechanics and realities of a presidential campaign, and... to write about it the same way [he’d] write about anything else -as close to the bone as [he] could get, and to hell with consequences.”

And so, why not?... Another campaign and, perhaps, another “jangled campaign diary” -far from the sidelines...so far in fact, I would say, I’m not even in the stadium, no... I’m comfortably and sedentarily ‘experiencing’ this campaign from the screen and my own domestic life. This is sheerly a writing exercise and personal experiment. So...“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” - Dr. Thompson

December 2011

I write this five days away from the Iowa caucus. (The MSNBC, yammering-on in the other room has a silly countdown clock in the corner of the screen...). Personally, I’ve been trying to avoid any and all political discourse these past couple of weeks; after all, “‘tis the season” and although I don’t religiously celebrate any holidays, I’m certainly thankful for the quiet time I have off from work and teaching to read, paint, eat, sleep, etc. - whatever my body wants, I give it. Indeed, there’s something marvelous and magical (one could say, miraculous) about this special time of year when celebration, relaxation, and reflection is encouraged. If only “everyday could be a holiday.

Then again, life tends to get a little dull when spent at home lazily sleeping-in and daydreaming the afternoon away. Although I loathe the subway commute, I do appreciate having to report to class and the office, such responsibilities compliment a more disciplined day. Such responsibilities give a man PURPOSE. And purpose, or perhaps, discipline is exactly what we’re here to discuss. Do I have the discipline to “get my head into the game”? To meet deadlines? To better discipline my body and being? Do I have what it takes to “campaign”?

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