This is that game I play where I type up a chapter or two from a famous novel (or other source) and you don’t find out who it is until the end. I think some people are going to know who this one is from the very first paragraph. I just have a feeling.
“Not much has been written about the Ibogaine Effect as a serious factor in the presidential campaign, but toward the end of the Wisconsin primary race -about a week before the vote- word leaked out that some of Muskie’s top advisers had called in a Brazilian doctor who was said to be treating the candidate with “some kind of strange drug” that nobody in the press corps had ever heard of.
It had been common knowledge for many weeks that Humphrey was using an exotic brand of speed know as “Wallot”…and it had been long whispered that Muskie was into something very heavy, but it was hard to take the talk seriously until I heard about the appearance of a mysterious Brazilian doctor. That was the key.
I immediately recognized the Ibogaine Effect – from Muskie’s tearful breakdown on the flatbed truck in New Hampshire, the delusions and altered thinking that characterized his campaign in Florida; and finally, the condition of “total rage” that gripped him in Wisconsin.
There was no doubt about it: the Man from Maine had turned to massive doses of ibogaine as a last resort. The only remaining question was “when did he start?” But nobody could answer this one, and I was not able to press the candidate himself for an answer because I was permanently barred from the Muskie campaign after that incident on the Sunshine Special in Florida… and that scene makes far more sense now than it did at the time.
Muskie has always taken pride in his ability to deal with hecklers; he has often challenged them, calling them up to the stage in front of big crowds and then forcing the poor bastards to debate him in a blaze of TV lights.
But there was none of that in Florida. When the Boohoo began grabbing at his legs and screaming for more gin, Big Ed went all to pieces… which gave rise to speculation, among reporters familiar with his campaign style in ’68 and ’70, that Muskie was not himself.
It was noticed, among other things, that he had developed a tendency to roll his eyes wildly during TV interviews, that his thought-patterns had become strangely fragmented, and that not even his closest advisors could predict when he might suddenly spiral off into babbling rages, or neo-comatose funks. In retrospect, however, it is easy to see why Muskie fell apart on that caboose platform in the Miami train station. There he was – far gone in a bad ibogaine frenzy – suddenly shoved out in a rainstorm to face a sullen crowd and some kind of snarling lunatic going for his legs while he tried to explain why he was “the only Democrat who can beat Nixon”.
It is entirely conceivable – given the known effects of ibogaine – that Muskie’s brain was almost paralyzed by hallucinations at the time; that he looked out at that crowd and saw Gila monsters instead of people, and that his mind snapped completely when he felt something large and apparently vicious clawing at his legs.
We can only speculate on this, because those in a position to know have flatly refused to comment on rumors concerning the senator’s disastrous experiments with ibogaine. I tried to find the Brazilian doctor on election night in Milwaukee, but by the time the polls closed he was long gone. One of the hired bimbos in Muskie’s Holiday Inn headquarters said a man with fresh welts on his head had been dragged out the side door and put on a bus to Chicago, but we were never able to confirm this.
Humphrey’s addiction to Wallow has not stirred any controversy, so far. He has always campaigned like a rat in heat, and the only difference now is that he is able to do it eighteen hours a day instead of ten. The main change in his public style, since ’68, is that he no longer seems aware that his gibberish is not taken seriously by anyone except Labor Leaders and middle-class Blacks. At least half the reporters assigned to the Humphrey campaign are convinced he’s senile. When he ran for president four years ago, he was a hack and a fool, but at least he was consistent.
Now he talks like an eighty-year-old woman who just discovered speed. He will call a press conference to announce that if elected he will “have our boys out of Vietnam within ninety days”-then rush across town, weeping and jabbering the whole way, to appear on a network TV show and make a fist-shaking emotional appeal for every good American to stand behind the president and “applaud” his recent decision to resume heavy bombing in North Vietnam.
McGovern’s solid victory in Wisconsin was dismissed, by most of the press wizards, as further evidence that the Democratic Party has been taken over by “extremists”: George McGovern on the Left and George Wallace on the Right, with a sudden dangerous vacuum in what is referred to on editorial pages as “the vital Center”.
The root of the problem, of course, is that most of the big-time Opinion Makers decided a long time ago – along with all those Democratic senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, and other party pros- that the candidate of the “vital Center” in ’72 would be none other than that fireball statesman from Maine, Ed Muskie. By the summer of ’71 the party bosses had convinced themselves that Ed Muskie was the “only Democrat with a chance of beating Nixon”.
This was bullshit, of course. Sending Muskie against Nixon would have been like sending a three-toed sloth out to seize turf from a wolverine. Big Ed was an adequate senator – or at least he’d seemed like one until he started trying to explain his “mistake” on the war in Vietnam- but it was stone madness from the start to ever think about exposing him to the kind of bloodthirsty thugs that Nixon and John Mitchell would sic on him. They would have him screeching on his knees by sundown on Labor Day.
If I were running a campaign against Muskie, I would arrange for some anonymous creep to buy time on national TV and announce that twenty-two years ago he and Ed spent a summer working as male prostitutes at a Peg House somewhere in the North Woods. Nothing else would be necessary.
Total candor with the press – or anyone else, for that matter- is not one of the traits most presidential candidates find entirely desirable in their key staff people. Skilled professional liars are as much in demand in politics as they are in the advertising business…and the main function of any candidate’s press secretary is to make sure the press gets nothing but upbeat news. There is no point, after all, in calling a press conference to announce that nobody on the staff will be paid this month because three or four of your largest financial backers just called to say they are pulling out and abandoning all hope of victory. When something like this happens, you quickly lock all the doors and send your press secretary out to start whispering, off the record, that your opponent’s California campaign coordinator just called to ask for a job.
This kind of devious bullshit is standard procedure in most campaigns. Everybody is presumed to understand it- even the reporters who can’t keep a straight face while they’re jotting it all down for page one of the early edition: “Sen. Mace Denies Pull Out Rumors; Predicts Total Victory in All States”
The best example of this kind of coverage has been the stuff coming out of the Muskie camp. In recent weeks the truth has been so painful that some journalists have gone out of their way to give the poor bastards a break and not flay them in print any more than absolutely necessary.
One of the only humorous moments in the Florida primary campaign, for instance, came when one of Muskie’s state campaign managers, Chris Hart, showed up at a meeting with representatives of the other candidates to explain why Big Ed was refusing to take part in a TV debate. “My instructions,” he said, “are that the senator should never again be put in a situation where he has to think quickly.”
By nightfall of that day every journalist in Miami was laughing at Hart’s blunder, but nobody published it; and none of the TV reporters ever mentioned it on the air. I didn’t even use it myself, for some reason, although I heard about it in Washington while I was packing to go back to Florida.
I remember thinking that I should call Hart and ask him if he actually said a thing like that, but when I got there, I didn’t feel up to it. Muskie was obviously in deep trouble, and Hart had been pretty decent to me when I’d showed up at headquarters to sign up for that awful trip on the Sunshine Special… So I figured what the hell? Let it rest. Looking back on it, I think it must have been so obvious that the Muskie campaign was doomed that nobody felt mean enough to torment the survivors over something that no longer seemed important.
One of my clearest memories of the Nebraska primary is getting off the elevator on the wrong floor in the Omaha Hilton and hearing a sudden burst of song from a room down one of the hallways…. Twenty to thirty young voices in ragged harmony, kicking out the jams as they swing into the final, hair-raising chorus of “The Hound and The Whore.” I had heard it before, in other hallways of other hotels along the campaign trail- but never this late at night, and never at this level of howling intensity:
O the Hound chased the Whore across
Boom! Boom! Boom!
O the Hound chased the Whore into the sea….
Boom! Boom! Boom!
A very frightening song under any circumstances- but especially frightening if you happen to be a politician running or very high stakes and you know the people singing that song are not on your side.
I have never been in that situation myself, but I imagine it is something like camping out in the North Woods and suddenly coming awake in your tent around midnight to the horrible snarling and screaming sounds of a werewolf killing your guard dog somewhere out in the trees beyond the campfire.
-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.
Big influence on me. Usually I say more but I’m feeling quiet today.