Commentary: Vetting Palin: The Gonzo tapes
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 2, 2008 - Drinking alone in my rathskeller, I was unexpectedly visited by the ghost of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson, you'll recall, was the original national affairs editor for Rolling Stone and inventor of an iconic style known as "Gonzo Journalism."
My spectral guest declined my offer of a bottle of Inbev, explaining that he'd had his fill of spirits lately. Our talk soon turned to politics, and I mentioned that his 1972 classic, "Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail," may have been the finest political satire I'd ever read. He took obvious pleasure in the compliment, demonstrating that the maniacal egos common to writers can transcend even the grave.
I remarked that I thought it ironic that Democrats, who advocate for universal health insurance and a livable minimum wage, are popularly portrayed as elitists; while Republicans, who promote unlimited corporate profit and unbridled executive privilege, are seen as the party of regular guys.
Thompson smiled whimsically and handed me a videotape. "You want regular guys? Get a load of this," he said as he stepped through my basement wall.
You'd think ghosts would have upgraded to DVD format by now but I figured Thompson's preference for tapes to be some kind of Watergate nostalgia thing. At any rate, I put the cassette into an old VCR, settled down in my recliner and hit "Play":
The tape depicted three Republican regular-guy consultants convened on behalf of John McCain. Because Moe, Larry and Curly were apparently otherwise obligated, the task fell to Fred, Ned and Jed.
The three are seated in front of a television set watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. In the middle, Fred chews on a cigar stub while staring intently at the screen. To his left, Ned shifts his attention between his laptop computer and the TV. On his right, Jed furtively picks his nose.
Fred: "This ain't good."
Ned: "What's that, Boss?"
Fred: "This whole friggin' speech. It looks like a cross between a Springsteen concert and the Sermon on the Mount. And these clowns are eating it up."
Ned: "Yeah, they've even got marble columns behind him -- it reminds me of something out of 'Ben-Hur.' Who does this guy think he is?"
Fred: "I dunno -- maybe the orator Cato."
Jed: "Cato? Wasn't he the Green Lantern's sidekick?"
Fred: "Shut up, Jed.
"The point is, they've got this big Hollywood production, all this glamour with the beautiful people falling all over each other to touch Obama's robes. We got Big John chewing the fat with the locals at a sausage factory in Wisconsin. We gotta figure out how to steal this guy's thunder."
Ned: "We could run some more POW ads..."
Fred: "Are you nuts? Look at that audience: Half of 'em weren't even born when John was across the pond. These meatballs think of 'Nam as a friendly nation populated by wanna-be dry cleaners who eat lunch at McDonalds. You tell this group that John spent five years at the Hanoi Hilton and they figure he was screwing around at some tropical resort ..."
Ned: "Maybe we could go negative. You know, rock the Barack ..."
Jed: "Yeah! We could tell people he's black."
Ned: "They already know he's black, you idiot."
Jed: "They don't care?"
Ned: "Apparently not."
Jed: "Well, there goes the southern strategy..."
Fred: "Shut up, Jed. What we need -- hold on a minute ... oh, never mind ..."
Fred: "For a moment, there, I thought Obama was about to bless the loaves and fishes. No, we need something to grab headlines, captivate the public's attention and siphon off middle-ground voters in the process."
Ned: "We could try to woo the PUMAS."
Jed: "We're courting running shoes?"
Fred: "Shut up, Jed. PUMAS stands for 'Party Unity, My Ass.' They're disillusioned Hillary supporters who won't back Obama. What's your plan, Ned?"
Ned: "Well, John's going to announce his VP choice on his birthday tomorrow. We got to make sure it's somebody exciting, somebody younger..."
Fred: "Younger than John? That shouldn't be too tough."
Jed: "Let's talk him into a broad -- a Republican Hillary for the PUMAS."
Fred: "Keep talking, Jed."
Jed: "Somebody just like Hillary only without the pants suit. NASCAR moms don't identify with pants suits. We need more of a babe -- you know, somebody intellectual as all hell but with big hair and big bazooms..."
Fred: "Big bazooms? I thought we were appealing to feminists ..."
Jed: "We are. Most of the people who get boob jobs are women, you know."
Fred: "OK, so we've got 12 hours to come up with a drop-dead gorgeous policy wonk who reminds people of Hillary but hates Democrats, appeals to both frustrated feminists and NASCAR moms, who also happens to be qualified to be the leader of the Free World ..."
Ned: "She's got to be -- what do they call it? -- 'empowered'."
Fred: "... empowered, pro-life, fiscally conservative with solid family values. Anything else?"
Jed: "It would help if she had a gun ..."
Fred: "Where do we find this Barbarella? Scratch that --we don't want to get Jane Fonda involved in the Republican VP search."
Ned: "Yeah, but she was hot."
Fred: "Cool it. This is a family satire."
Ned: "Not Barbarella, we need Wonder Woman --patriotic, tough as nails but built like a brick outhouse on square wheels ..."
Fred: "Where do we find ..."
Ned: "How about Palin?"
Fred & Jed: "Who?"
Ned: "Sarah Palin. I just googled her. She's the governor of Alaska. Former beauty queen, mother of five, NRA member..."
Fred: "Do we know anything else about her?"
Ned: "She just had a baby. Get this: went into labor at a conference in Texas, gave her scheduled address anyway, got on a plane, flew back to Alaska, gave birth and was back at work two days later."
Jed: "Hell, maybe she really is Wonder Woman."
Ned: "Plus, she wears glasses and you know what that means."
Fred: "She has poor eyesight?"
Ned: "No, she's an intellectual. Everybody knows that babes who wear glasses are brainy."
Jed: "A beauty queen with glasses and a gun, now that's hot ..."
At that point, I must have drifted off. When I awoke the screen was blank and the tape was gone. On the bar I found an unsigned note. It read simply, "Fear and Loathing never go out of style."
M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.