The fact that, though he is a Republican, he’s not Bush would, one assumes, make John McCain at least palatable.

Not that Thompson marched in ideological lockstep. Witness his surprising friendship with Pat Buchanan, who’s interviewed in Gonzo. (Buchanan, for what it’s worth, has said McCain “will make Cheney look like Gandhi.”)

Hillary Clinton he’d written about. Long before her cackle became a YouTube phenomenon, we read Thompson describing her — in his scattershot ’92 campaign diary, Better Than Sex — “hissing and croaking in that blue steel voice of hers that a lot of people said always sounded exactly like a raven born out of a black egg.”

So there’s, uh, that. But Obama? “I think, obviously, he’d support him,” says McKeen, “because he wouldn’t want more of the same. I think he would have enjoyed the fight between Clinton and Obama, and I think he’d definitely want to see Obama triumph. I think he’d be a little wary, though. He’d be wary of Obama in [the way] that he would be wary of Jesus. He’d be wary of any person. I don’t think he’d want to give anyone his unvarnished support.”

Thompson learned the hard way what happens when you do that. It usually ends in disappointment. One of Campaign Trail ’72’s strengths — beyond its Gonzo flights of fancy: Ed Muskie whacked out on Ibogaine, John Chancellor dosing on black acid — was that it was written, unabashedly, by a McGovern cheerleader. That the election’s outcome (Nixon winning with the fourth-largest margin of victory in American history) had been pretty much preordained didn’t make it easier to swallow.

This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes and his imprecise talk about “new politics” and “honesty in government,” is one of the few men who’ve run for President of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been. . . . Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?

“When it came to politics and the starry-eyed idealist sort of candidate, he believed in ’em,” says McKeen. “I always admired the fact that he was so committed to McGovern — and had his heart broken by McGovern.”

Indeed, in Gonzo, even McGovern’s former campaign manager, Gary Hart, chides Thompson for his “infantile” view of the political game: “To be estimable in his judgment, you had to be a noble loser.”

But Thompson lived for the blood sport. “The genetically vicious nature of presidential campaigns in America is too obvious to argue with, but some people call it fun, and I am one of them,” he wrote in Rolling Stone in 2004, before that election dispirited him irrevocably. “We look forward to major election days like sex addicts look forward to orgies. We are slaves to it.”

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