Stories and the Man from Maine

Ed Muskie is now a Maine political ghost. After running for president more than 40 years ago, which in Twitter years is like 2 million, his online profile reads (according to Wikipedia), he was “an American politician from Rumford, Maine.”

Why am I ruminating about Ed Muskie on this cold February morning, with temperatures well below zero, and my septic system on the fritz? Because I just saw a teaser/commercial during the break while watching WCSH-6’s News Center broadcast—Bill Green’s Maine will be profiling the late “legend” who failed to win the mayoral race in Waterville in 1947, but bounced back, claiming Maine’s highest office in 1954.

Reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72 just after Christmas altered my own take on Muskie, aka, “The Man From Maine,” the moniker Thompson began using in reporting about the four-term senator from the Pine Tree State.

Ed Muskie: Political Ghost

Ed Muskie: Political Ghost

Thompson apparently didn’t care for Muskie (or most other pols running on the Democratic ticket in 1972), and began describing him affectionately as a “vicious 200-pound water rat.” He also claimed that Muskie was drug-addled, addicted to Ibogaine, a powerful hallucinogenic.

From Thompson’s book, an excerpt:

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 frequently challenged them, calling them up to the stage in front of big crowds and then forcing the poor bastards to debate with him in a blaze of TV lights.

The story was fiction, yet other reporters on the trail ran with it, and it hit the wires nationally. Thompson later claimed that he was merely reporting a rumor—it just so happened that he created the rumor to begin with.

I’m guessing that this story won’t be part of Green’s Muskie feature on Saturday night.

3 thoughts on “Stories and the Man from Maine

  1. @JAB Green’s programs are always interesting. Perhaps it will be about the Muskie School of Public Service. I’m also guessing there will be footage of Rumford, Muskie’s work on air and water and according to this hagiographic site, his being the “father of the modern environmental movement.” Apparently, he was also one of the “pivotal figures of post-war America.” Who knew?

    I enjoyed reading Thompson’s take, which was written in 1972. I don’t remember hearing about that one while I was in school, especially the four years I passed through the hallowed halls of LHS, 1976 t0 1980.

    Todays post is another one in my periodic series on alternative narratives, and variations on the prescribed canon.

  2. When I was put to work as a grad student teaching assistant back in 1986, I rambled up to the lectern and spent the hour breaking down the battle between the legislative and the executive branches at the time of Watergate.

    Then I realized that my freshmen students had never known any president other than Reagan (Carter was a bad childhood memory to them). Nixon was a name to them, like Hitler or Genghis Khan. Senator Ed Muskie? Who?

    For that matter, who in Maine remembers Margaret Chase Smith, who probably did more to keep Military-Industrial Complex money coming to Maine than anyone else since? Replaced by one-term wonder Bill Hathaway who spent the rest of his life as lobbyist in DC, knocked off by Bill Cohen, and has it really mattered who had that seat since?

    Americans are like children. Twitter doesn’t help. If you can’t remember what happened five minutes ago, much less forty-two years ago, you will be easily led. The ideologists will proclaim Muskie either the destroyer of Maine’s industry or the savior of Maine’s health, whichever is the more easily digestable narrative to peddle to your audience. Muskie’s legacy is of course far more complex than that, even with Hunter Thompson’s fabulist embellishments.

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