Hunter S. Thompson Remembers Jimmy Carter’s Captivating Bob Dylan Speech (1974)

Forty years ago, Hunter S. Thomp­son wrote Fear and Loathing on the Cam­paign Trail ’72, which “is still con­sid­ered a kind of bible of polit­i­cal report­ing,” says Matt Taib­bi in a new edi­tion of the book. Fear and Loathing ’72 entered the canon of Amer­i­can polit­i­cal writ­ing for many rea­sons. But if you’re look­ing for one bot­tom-line expla­na­tion, it prob­a­bly comes down to this: Says Taib­bi, “Thomp­son stared right into the flam­ing-hot sun of shame­less lies and cyn­i­cal horse­shit that is our pol­i­tics, and he described exact­ly what he saw—probably at seri­ous cost to his own men­tal health, but the ben­e­fit to us was [his leg­endary book].”

Thomp­son may have reached some jour­nal­is­tic apogee with his cov­er­age of the ’72 Nixon-McGov­ern cam­paign. But his polit­i­cal writ­ing hard­ly stopped there. The Gonzo jour­nal­ist cov­ered the ’76 elec­tion for Rolling Stone Mag­a­zine. And inevitably he crossed paths with Jim­my Carter, the even­tu­al win­ner of the elec­tion. Above, Thomp­son recalls the day when Carter first made an impres­sion upon him.

It hap­pened at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia School of Law on May 4, 1974. Speak­ing before a gath­er­ing of alum­ni lawyers, Carter upset their cel­e­bra­to­ry occa­sion when he dis­man­tled the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem they were so proud of. And Carter par­tic­u­lar­ly caught Thomp­son’s atten­tion when he traced his sense of social jus­tice back to a song writ­ten by Bob Dylan:

The oth­er source of my under­stand­ing about what’s right and wrong in this soci­ety is from a friend of mine, a poet named Bob Dylan. After lis­ten­ing to his records about “The Bal­lad of Hat­tie Car­ol” and “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times, They Are a‑Changing,” I’ve learned to appre­ci­ate the dynamism of change in a mod­ern soci­ety.

I grew up as a landown­er’s son. But I don’t think I ever real­ized the prop­er inter­re­la­tion­ship between the landown­er and those who worked on a farm until I heard Dylan’s record, “I Ain’t Gonna Work on Mag­gie’s Farm No More.” So I come here speak­ing to you today about your sub­ject with a base for my infor­ma­tion found­ed on Rein­hold Niebuhr and Bob Dylan.

You can read the full text of Carter’s speech here. It’s also worth watch­ing a relat­ed clip below, where Thomp­son elab­o­rates on Carter, his famous speech and his alleged mean streak that put him on the same plain as Muham­mad Ali and Son­ny Barg­er (the god­fa­ther of The Hells Angels).

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

by | Permalink | Comments (9) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (9)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Thomp­son has influ­enced the past few gen­er­a­tions with his inven­tion of Gonzo Jour­nal­ism. The Good Doc­tor broke the mold on writ­ing and changed the world and the voice of counter-cul­ture. His work and antics will live on to influ­ence even more gen­er­a­tions to come. I paid trib­ute to Hunter S Thomp­son and his work with my por­trait and arti­cle on my artist’s blog at

  • Kelly Burnette says:

    Fine for Thomp­son, but the real star of this post is Carter. I was 6 when he gave this speech. I remem­ber his tenure as pres­i­dent. And yes, the eco­nom­ic woes. But the linked speech is the vision of a pres­i­dent who was gut­sy enough to act on his prin­ci­ples. Read the pdf doc­u­ment. Par­al­lel it with what you see cur­rent­ly. Mull it.

  • Carter gets a lot of flak these days, but it’s posts and rec­ol­lec­tions like this that tru­ly get back to the real­i­ties of the late 70s.

    And as to Carter’s term in office, Wal­ter Karp’s LIBERTY UNDER SIEGE is essen­tial read­ing. Had Carter been as astute a politi­cian as he was a cam­paign­er, our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion might be very dif­fer­ent. As it was, the forces of oli­garchy destroyed him.

  • whelan00 says:

    jim­my carter lega­cy nev­er bet­ter said than here:‑got-what-america-needs-right-here,11356/

  • biffula says:

    Thomp­son sure had Carter paint­ed wrong. He was the most weak kneed, mam­by pam­by, inef­fec­tu­al leader in U.S. his­to­ry. Well, until 2008 that is.

  • Kevin McCreary says:

    This is def­i­nite­ly a joke. The three mean­est peo­ple he every met: Muham­mad Ali, Son­ny Barg­er, and jim­my carter. Ali was one of his heroes, and he stayed friends with Son­ny for years after he wrote “hel­l’s Angels”.

  • Jason Ozolins says:

    The Law Day speech link in the arti­cle no longer works; looks like it’s moved to:

  • Jimmy Jones says:

    It’s all bull­shit. Thomp­son was wrong about near­ly every­thing he wrote. Hell, I was in High School dur­ing this time and I remem­ber the long late night talks about drugs and pol­i­tics from admit­ted com­mu­nist (what would turn out to be) of the time. The one thing that has always stuck with me is those guys say­ing “ya but we have the right to free speech though, right?” I would always say of course you do and I would fight to pro­tect that free speech. Well, fast for­ward to today. Believe me, the communist/socialist here today would cut your throat in a heart­beat if you tried to say some­thing they did­n’t like. It was all good when they thought they were way behind in pow­er but when they got to the point that they thought they were in the pow­er lead, all hell broke loose. Today, these peo­ple are a com­bi­na­tion of Fas­cist, Nazi and Com­mu­nist all in one which only proves the point that many today know but none of have been taught. The 3 named par­ties above are all on the same side of the coin. They have dif­fer­ences but the dif­fer­ences are few. Even Lenin thought Mus­soli­ni was the guy when the com­mu­nist in Italy threw him out of the par­ty and he wrote to them and told them so. You can’t fix some­thing or real­ly under­stand some­thing like this unless you’ve read their books and stud­ied them on your own. When you do it becomes obvi­ous what we are see­ing. You are not going to be taught the truth and most peo­ple just go with the flow and nev­er under­stand it at all.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.