As the candidate who lost 49 states to Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election, I have always been pleased that among the precious few who thought I would have made the better president was Hunter S. Thompson, who went to his untimely grave saying that I was “the best of a lousy lot.”
Thompson’s position was that I was “honest” -- except for one “wicked moment” when I attended Nixon’s funeral and said a few sympathetic words to his family and friends. “Yeah,” Hunter told me, “you went into the tank with that evil bastard.”
Hunter relished such frightful words. “Evil,” “wicked,” “fear and loathing.” These were the words that described the world best for him.
Once, when he was pressed into the back seat of my car with three other people, he tried to escape to a nearby bar when I slowed for a red light in heavy traffic. Foiled by the baby lock that had been inadvertently clicked on, he raged at me: “Get me out of this evil contraption before I start killing.”
On the jacket of his now-classic book about the 1972 election, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail,” he printed a photograph of the two of us with the following caption: “Pictured above is George McGovern urging Dr. Hunter S. Thompson to accept the vice presidential nomination.”
In retrospect, I wish I had. Perhaps then Hunter and I might both still be alive and well instead of dead and wounded, respectively.
It’s true, as many have noted in recent days, that Hunter did not devote his energy and talent to the pursuit of factual accuracy. But accuracy isn’t everything.
Frank Mankiewicz, the political director of my campaign, was right to call Hunter’s book “the least accurate and most truthful” of the campaign books that appeared after the 1972 race.
Hunter was disheartened after the campaign, and it fell to me on several occasions to try to persuade him not to give up on what he called “this f----- up country.”
What I didn’t get to tell him was that one of the reasons we should never give up on America is that from time to time, as we have been reminded recently, this country produces a genuine original -- a Katharine Hepburn, a Ray Charles, an Arthur Miller, a Johnny Carson, an Ossie Davis, a professor Seymour Melman, or an inaccurate and irreverent and truthful Hunter Thompson.