09 Feb 2014

Missing Hunter Thompson in the Age of Barry Soetero

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Dr. Thompson, with gun, on bike.

In 2008, James Poulos (who takes the aesthetic Bohemian approach to American political life) bought into Barack Obama’s BS. He knows better now and can be found wistfully imagining the fun if Dr. Thompson was still around to observe and comment on the hideous smoking-and-burning wreck that the current administration has made of both the American economy and democratic government. Picture Hunter Thompson, stoned on several different potent substances, writing up an essay, which Rolling Stone could not bring itself to decline, on Michelle Obama’s covert 50th Birthday Party, conducted in the manner of Elagabulus, but obligingly neglected by the lapdogs of the MSM.

Hunter Thompson is fun and easy to abuse for one’s own political purposes, but we are woefully all the poorer for having lost him in 2005, before he had a chance to discover that the power dynamic he railed against at the peak of his powers was still with us, smarter and dumber than ever. …

[T]here are now so few Democrats with even a wistful, nostalgic connection to the days when Freak Power thrived on the left. On a bad day, the landscape resembles a shameful two-species ecosystem: old corporatist behemoths casting long shadows over flea-bitten packs of communists so young and frustrated that they’re always on the verge of bursting into tears. …

We were on the back half of the Bush years. Something new, possibly even wonderful, would soon be in sight. Sure enough, the impossible happened—Hillary Clinton was beat, fair and square, by someone so sonorous about the possibilities of choice and resilience that he received the Kennedy stamp of approval, and then America’s.

Innocent times. Now, that special someone has left the crown of hope in the gutter, overwhelmed and infected by the propaganda of neediness and choicelessness that fuels the rule of fear over so much of our daily life. Progress has somehow gone from an inspiring option to an individual mandate—a grim necessity we are obliged to grind out. …

This was the touchstone of Obama ’08. Now it goes all but untouched. There was a dazzling gonzo streak to Obama’s insurgent campaign—a sense not of historical inevitability but of people, real people, going off on an incredible tangent, so crazy it just might work. The mood of the moment was nearly the opposite of today’s Obama, with his nationalistic claptrap about how “America doesn’t stand still.”

No, Mr. President, we don’t. We shift with unease from one foot to the other. We fretfully pace the floor. America is becoming a waiting room.

We’re waiting for more shoes to drop. The nagging, nervous energy that dominates our personal and political lives belies the harsh lesson of executive action: the more constant the crisis, the more impotent it is apt to grow.

Two hundred years ago, the French liberal Benjamin Constant saw the same pathology in Napoleon Bonaparte’s waning days of despotism. Trapped in the cycle of permanent emergency and perpetual action, he wrote, “servitude has no rest, agitation no pleasure.”

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