20 January 2008

What were they drinking?

Fact Checking

Almost two weeks ago I quoted a memory of Pat Buchanan that was published in Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson (2007).

I met Hunter in New Hampshire when he came to interview the old man [Nixon]. … Hunter and I were holed up in some hotel in Nashua on a snowy night and discovered that we were in possession of, I forget, either a gallon or a half-gallon of Wild Turkey. Now I had a lot of stamina in those days, and the two of us stayed up all night arguing fiercely about communism.
Pat Buchanan in Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, 126-127.
Hunter Thompson also mentioned this night of drinking and arguing politics with Buchanan.

My own relationship with Buchanan goes back to the New Hampshire primary in 1968 when Nixon was still on the dim fringes of his political comeback. We spent about eight hours one night in a Boston hotel room, finishing off a half-gallon of Old Crow and arguing savagely about politics: As I recall, I kept asking him why a person who seemed to have good sense would be hanging around with Nixon. It was clear even then that Buchanan considered me stone crazy, and my dismissal of Nixon as a hopeless bum with no chance of winning anything seemed to amuse him more than anything else.
Thompson, “Fear and Loathing at the Watergate,” in The Great Shark Hunt, 253.

Given their agreement that they drank bourbon together all night in a hotel in 1968 while arguing politics, it may not be important whether they drank Wild Turkey or Old Crow, whether they were in Nashua or Boston, and whether they argued about communism or Richard Nixon. Thompson was known to invent certain details to flesh out the stories in his Gonzo Journalism, but he is generally quite specific about the drugs he was taking or the alcohol consumed, such as sharing a couple of bottles of Bass Ale with the night watchman at the Washington Hilton in the early morning of 9 August 1974 (The Great Shark Hunt, 316). As a native of Louisville, Kentucky whose childhood classmates’ families owned some of the leading distilleries in the state, Thompson certainly understood the difference between Wild Turkey and Old Crow.

Nixon's speechwriter Buchanan, on the other hand, has plenty of experience “red-baiting”. His suggestion that he and Thompson (perhaps more of a Libertarian than anything else) disagreed on anything regarding communism spins their debate in a particular direction quite distinct from Thompson’s recollection that Nixon was the subject of their “savage” disagreement. Buchanan and his allies have a well-established anti-communist legacy that almost appears psychotic, while Thompson’s hatred of Nixon was so intense that even a review of a Blues album for The Distant Drummer in 1967 contained the line, “Nixon back from the dead, running wild in the power vacuum of Lyndon’s hopeless bullshit” (The Great Shark Hunt, 99).


Who offers more reliable facts, Buchanan or Thompson? A rising speech writer and a journalist on the cusp of a brilliant moment in his career drank together and argued politics. Each would influence millions of others towards his peculiar take on matters more important than one obscure night in a hotel room. The discord in their shared recollections reflects, however faintly, deeper ideological conflicts.

1 comment:

Houston said...

I remember my adventures quite differently than some of the other active characters.

In my own experience, positive memories always have better drugs and booze than negative ones. I'm sure Hunter remains the most interesting person Buchanan ever met (Wild Turkey). I'm sure Hunter never returned the compliment (Old Crow).


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