Spanking the Donkey is gonzo journalism at its finest. This might as well have been called Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: 2004, as Matt Taibbi dove deep into the pathetic horror show that is American presidential politics. The bulk of the book has Taibbi following the campaigns of the Democratic contenders, campaigns that were all about mealy-mouthed pandering and the horse race, except for the Kucinich campaign, which was all about idealism and principles. Taibbi was as horrified as the rest of us when that wooden yet spineless stick-figure, that droning upper-class non-entity, John Kerry pulled into the lead, and the book spirals into a quasi-depressive ‘put me out of my misery’ motif.
The most interesting part of the book was the 2 months in the summer of 2004 that Taibbi spent undercover in the Republican campaign office in Orlando, Florida. Orlando is the dark underbelly of crazed right-wing Christian fundamentalist republicanism, and yet Taibbi discovered a kind of Hannah Arendt phenomenon - people whose intellect and perceptions have been so stunted by a daily diet of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh that they can no longer perceive the world as it is; people who crave demons, who need a constant barrage of new things and people to hate and fear; people so casual and constant in their racism that they are unable to even understand that they are racist. People, in other words, that deserve equal parts pity and contempt.