It's always good to sit down with Dr. Gonzo for an interview.
This time the discussion centers on the book Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie Trapped Like a Rat in Mr. Bill's Neighborhood.
Writing this book was as close as Hunter S. Thompson came to going back on the campaign trail, during a presidential election, as he did for Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail '72.
First, Doc, I think it would be beneficial if you'd explain what it means to be a political junkie.
"Not everybody is comfortable with the idea that politics is a guilty addiction. But it is. There are, and they are guilty and they do lie and cheat and steal---like all junkies. And when they get in a frenzy, they will sacrifice anything and anybody to feed their cruel and stupid habit, and there is no cure for it. That is addictive thinking. That is politics---especially in presidential campaigns. That is when the addicts seize the high ground. They care about nothing else. They are salmon, and they must spawn. They are addicts, and so am I. The fish hear their music and I hear mine. Politics is like the Guinea Worm. It sneaks into your body and grows like a cyst from within---until finally it gets so big and strong that it bursts straight through the skin, a horrible red worm with a head like a tiny cobra, snapping around in the air as it struggles to breathe."
- Hunter S. Thompson addicts (page 7)
The approach you've used to cover presidential election campaigns is not what people tend to think of when they hear the world journalism. What does journalism mean to you?
"There are a lot of ways to practice the art of journalism, and one of them is to use your art like a hammer to destroy the right people---who are always your enemies, for one reason or another, and who usually deserve to be crippled because they are wrong."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 16)
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and Better Than Sex are separated by 30 years, what have you learned about politics over that time?
"Politics is a mean business, and when September rolls around in a presidential campaign, it gets mean on a level that is beyond most people's comprehension. The White House is the most powerful office in the world, and a lot of people will tell you nothing is over the line when it finally comes down to winning or losing the presidency of the United States. Nobody is safe and nothing is sacred when the stakes finally get that high. It is the ultimate fast lane, and the people still on their feet in September are usually the meanest of the mean. The last train out of any station will not be full of nice guys."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 105)
Why did you decide to write a book on the 1992 election?
"I knew I had no choice but to be a part of the 1992 election. Even though I realized it was not going to be much fun, win or lose---except briefly for the campaign staff of the lone survivor, who would be the next president of the United States and move, with his people, to the White House, where many would drown or be bashed to death on the dark reefs of the fast lane.
The only other sector of the electorate who would feel any joy on election night were the junkies like me, who understood in their hearts that the only real priority in 1992 was beating George Bush. Nothing else mattered."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 14)
You have written before about the end of the American Dream. Was there a similar theme you can point to when it comes to the 1992 election?
"SUBJECT: Welcome to the end of the American Century---Politics '92, bad wreck in the fast lane, bad news for fun-hogs...the treachery of Ross Perot, the sleaziness of George Bush and the end of the world as we know it...Welcome to Mr. Bill's Neighborhood: lay low, act dumb, and prepare for teh night of the whore hopper...."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 85)
"The younger generation" was more involved in 1968 than in 1992. Do you have any thoughts on that?
"No wonder the poor bastards from Generation X have lost their sense of humor about politics. Some things are not funny to the doomed, especially when they've just elected a President with no sense of humor at all. The joke is over when even victory is a downhill run into hardship, disappointment and a queasy sense of betrayal. If you can laugh in the face of these things, you are probably ready for a staff job with a serious presidential candidate."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 5)
How would you sum up the 1992 campaign?
"The 1992 presidential campaign was the slowest and lamest and least passionate 'struggle for the White House' that I'd ever seen or even heard about in my lifetime---it was dead on both ends. Neither one of the final candidates would have been allowed anywhere near the White House in better times. It was dumb on dumb: George Bush looked more and more like some kind of half-eaten placenta left behind at the birth of Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton's low-rent accidental fascist-style campaign made Jimmy Carter seem like Thomas Jefferson."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 226)
To truly understand the 1992 election, Doc, what do people need to know about George Bush?
"Look at George Bush. He is a monster and a fraud and a failure, and he has worked overtime to give politics a bad name. He is a mean-spirited wimp and a career bureaucrat who has arguably committed more high crimes and misdemeanors in and around the Oval Office than Richard Nixon would have been impeached for it if he hadn't resigned....Nixon was genetically dishonest and so is Bush. They both represent what Bobby Kennedy called, 'the dark underbelly of the American dream.'"
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 105)
While serving as Governor of the State of Arkansas Bill Clinton was well known as Slick Willie. What was your impression of Clinton?
"The only time I ever really believed Bill Clinton was when he said he could beat George Bush---which he did--- and that was all I cared about at the time. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, like the Arabs say---and if he happens to be a swine, so what? At least he is our swine. Even his own friends are choosing up sides."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 195)
No discussion of the '92 election would be complete without examining the Perot factor. How did you see the role of the Texas billionaire?
"Ross Perot was only the first of them---the New Age political predators---Perot is a greedy little dingbat with no balls at all, who was a charlatan from the very beginning. H. L. Mencken would have loved him. He is a monument to Mencken's dictum that says, 'Every third American devotes himself to improving and uplifting his fellow citizen, usually by force.' Ross Perot fits that description in spades, but so what? He is a tiny little ferret of a man with a genius for marketing gimmicks and an eerie basic resemblance to a man they called Adolf Hitler....
It made a lot of people nervous, and frankly, I was one of them.
It wasn't just Ross that was dangerous. It was the way he emerged out of nowhere and became a dark-horse favorite to win a three-way election and become the president of the United States. One day he was just another Dallas billionaire and the next he was the American dream."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 86)
It was personally important to you that Clinton beat Bush, why?
"As September rolled around I went into seclusion with my animals and began making plans to leave the country and move to Paraguay if George Bush got reelected. Some people called me paranoid, but their names were not on the U.S. Secret Service hot-list of known malcontents, addicts, drinkers and sworn political enemies with large weapons collections and erratic personal histories including (bogus) allegations of uttering public 'threats' on the life of the president or vice president.
Both in my case---but only because George Bush had been elected to both offices."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 125)
No single person was more associated with your career than Richard M. Nixon. What was it about him that caused you to add a chapter to the end of your book?
"The death of Richard Nixon in April, 1994 came just as this book was going to press and made it necessary to change the ending. No book about campaign junkies and politics addicts would be complete without including Richard Nixon. He was the ultimate campaign junkie, and his addiction to politics was total. Cheating and lying and stealing were all he really understood in life."
- Hunter S. Thompson (page 237)
The funeral of a former president is serious business in the United States. Was Nixon's funeral done in such a way that it fit him well?
"If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.
These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern---but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum."
-Hunter S. Thompson