This morning brings the sad news that Hunter S. Thompson, the sage of Gonzo Journalism, has died at 67, of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Woody Creek, Colorado.I never had the chance to meet Thompson, and haven’t paid much attention to his writings since the early 1980s, but at his peak, he was without peer as a improvisational writer on subjects ranging from politics to drugs to pro football, to–well, to nearly every subject touching on his tortured vision of the American Dream. Any blogger who hasn’t read Thompson is arguably missing the originator of the medium’s distinctive style, long before the internet. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, his brilliant account of the 1972 presidential campaign, reads a lot more like a long series of blog posts than any kind of print journalism report. And all his earlier books, from Hell’s Angels through The Curse of Lono, are worth reading and re-reading.Thompson’s career also represents a cautionary tale about the cost of celebrity–a celebrity he seemed to endure rather than pursue. At one point Thompson was planning another Fear and Loathing book about the 1976 presidential campaign, but abandoned it, because, as he told an interviewer: “It’s hard to cover a campaign as an Outlaw Journalist when you’re getting more attention than the candidates…. I can thank friend Trudeau for that.” He was referring, of course, to the Uncle Duke character in Doonesbury, based not-so-loosely on Thompson, which destroyed any sort of casual privacy for its model once and for all. And that’s also probably why Thompson’s later writings seemed often to read like self-parody.But his genius is without question, and in the welter of drugs and gunplay and sexual assault charges that appear to have marked his declining years, I can only hope he never lost his touching, almost naive faith in the possibilities of America “as a monument to the human race’s best instincts”–a faith that fueled his rage at the “greedheads” who betrayed those possibilities.So: here’s to Doctor Gonzo’s memory, and I guess the only proper way of commemorating his passing is to hunker down somewhere, light up a King Marlboro, shrewdly rip the pop tops off a six-pack of beer, and read his remarkable prose.
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.