Political Animal


April 27, 2012 3:14 PM Uh Oh

By Ed Kilgore

Sorry for the delay in posting, but just got into a bit of a Twitter spat with Jonathan Martin of Politico after tweeting that I was unafraid of Jeb Bush as Mitt’s running-mate.

In any event, whilst this was going on I stumbled on an awe-inspiringly vicious and thorough takedown of Tucker Carlson by Alex Pareene at Salon. As one of those Journo-Listers whose off-the-record quotes got taken wildly out of context in the Daily Caller’s signature exposure of the Vast Left-Wing Medica conspiracy, I can’t say that I shed any tears over Pareene’s evisceration of ol’ Tucker. But then I came across this line (warning: non-family-friendly content ahead!):

Like every other raging asshole who goes into journalism, Carlson idolized Hunter Thompson.

Now I was never much one to admire, much less emulate, Thompson’s—er, ah—“lifestyle choices,” and stopped reading him altogether way back in the 1980s when he pretty much became a parody of himself. But sorry, Alex, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 remains one of the best political books ever written, and made a positive difference if only because it blew up the Teddy White genre of “insider” campaign journalism once and for all (at least until Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes briefly and partially rehabilitated it, and then Game Change brought it right back).

In any event, I’ll assume Alex would agree that while all “raging assholes” may idolize Hunter Thompson, not everyone who idolizes Hunter Thompson is a “RA” his or her own self, and leave it at that.

And for those of you who are puzzled by this post because you haven’t read Thompson, or just know him as the inspiration for Garry Trudeau’s Uncle Duke (a development that Thompson himself blamed for ruining his career by making him a bigger celebrity than the politicians he was trying to write about), then go read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 and get back to me.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • fostert on April 27, 2012 3:24 PM:

    You also want to read Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie. That one is about the 1992 campaign. And while it isn't political, Hell's Angels is a must-read.

  • SadOldVet on April 27, 2012 3:29 PM:

    Please publish the tweets between yourself and Martin!

    It may convince some of us that there is something progressive about you and not just a DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lite who loves to talk about the political insider baseball.

  • Tom Q on April 27, 2012 3:32 PM:

    I took that throwaway line in Pareene's piece to be part of the popular "anything the baby boomers loved sucks in retrospect" attitude I get from alot of younger folk.

    If you don't love Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, it'll largely be because you've read so many things subsequent that rode its coattails. As Ed says, at the time it was revolutionary...blowing a giant hole into the "these are all honorable men" sanctimony that prevailed in official Washington (and does so much damage from its remnants today). I remember laughing out loud constantly while I read the book.

    And Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is pretty great too, anti-drug moralists be damned.

  • Dan on April 27, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Read F&LotCT when it was published in every other issue of Rolling Stone back in '72, then got the hardcover book. Extraordinary journalism that captured the zeitgeist perfectly. What's amazing is that it reflected the paranoia of those times, despite the fact that the full extent of Nixon's Watergate shenanigans were not yet fully known. (Woodstein's stories largely went uncirculated outside D.C., except for a few papers nationally, including the Louisville Courier-Journal where I followed the unfolding story.) Part of what made the F&LotCT articles so much fun was HST's flights of fancy (like his fantasizing about loping off Frank Mankewitz's big toes, leaving McGovern's campaign manager lumbering off-balance down hallways); these passages were often necessitated by Jann Wenner's allocating a much larger space for HST's articles than HST's original draft filled.

  • Nick on April 27, 2012 3:36 PM:

    'Hell's Angels' ... yes indeed. 1965, present at the creation so to speak. "'Can you spare a little shunt? I'm hurtin' ..." Shunt being money; don't anyone panic.

  • DAY on April 27, 2012 3:39 PM:

    He created "gonzo journalism" and did it better than anyone since.

  • Anonymous on April 27, 2012 3:40 PM:

    Tucker is the very definition of Repub shill. After W was elected he admitted that (even while he was parroting the Repub party lies) no one he knew in journalism including himself actually voted for W.

    Oh, and he can't dance either.

  • MichaelF on April 27, 2012 3:42 PM:

    Found Hunter Thompson's book in, of all places, the Iberia Parish (Loosiana) Library as a teenager -- I'd read All the President's Men and was browsing around for anything to follow up. Maybe as close as I'll ever get to winning the lottery.

  • steve on April 27, 2012 3:44 PM:

    Ed, I didn't read that as an anti-thompson comment at all. If I say all raging assholes like chocolate cake, I'm not saying chocolate cake is bad.

  • Lev @ LibraryGrape.com on April 27, 2012 3:51 PM:

    Thompson is like the Bob Marley of journalism. Talented guys, innovative, likable. But both had their annoying tendencies, and millions of morons latched onto those annoying tendencies and turned them into grotesque versions of what they had been. Or, really, like the Beatles, who hippies have been trying to reduce to "peace and love, man!" for decades now, thankfully not entirely successfully. Yeah, tell me which of those qualities "Helter Skelter" is supposed to represent.

  • dr2chase on April 27, 2012 4:10 PM:

    Wait, you mean "raging asshole" is a bad thing?

  • Mark on April 27, 2012 4:35 PM:

    If you get a chance read the good doctor's column he wrote for ESPN's page 2 on sept 12th, 2001.
    He was a great writer and it was he turned me onto politics.
    Also the Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved is an annual read on the first sat. in may.
    Thanks for all the great commentary,

  • gasb on April 27, 2012 4:40 PM:

    HST's Kentucky Derby commmentary is one reason the thought of mint juleps seems so sickening.

  • Tuttle on April 27, 2012 4:41 PM:

    Actually, in the 80s HST did at least one great thing. He properly defined the generation that came back from WWII not as the "Greatest Generation" but as the "Generation of Swine".

  • c u n d gulag on April 27, 2012 4:48 PM:

    "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail," and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," are two of the best and funniest books of ALL TIME!!!?

    Only Charles Pierce comes close to Hunter - with Matt Taibbi, a fairly close second.

    But Mr. Pierce is the best political writer today.

  • Quaker in a Basement on April 27, 2012 4:59 PM:

    The operative word is "idolize." Anybody can read Thompson, admire his perspective, and enjoy his work. It takes a special sort to aspire to following in Hunter's drug-addled footsteps.

  • NHCt on April 27, 2012 5:06 PM:

    It's just like how every douchbag who went into magazine writing idolized Tom Wolfe and decided writing a coherent sentence was some kind of war crime. Pareene isn't criticizing HST or those who appreciate his better work, but the cult that developed around him, especially among young reporters. Either they latched onto the drugs and craziness aspects of his writing or the (badly misunderstood) cynicism of his views about politics. Just look at Taibbi. Sure, he developed his own style and reporting method, but his early stunts are pure juvenile Thompson. The difference is between those who see their HST worship as merely a phase or a lifelong calling.