William F. Buckley

Thompson had a gift for vitriol. All -- everything -- was subsumed in his exercise of that art. Consider one entire paragraph on Richard Nixon. "For years I've regarded (Nixon's) very existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad. I couldn't imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn't quite reach the lever on the voting machine."

We were asked to believe (by the San Francisco Chronicle) that in reading Thompson we are reading the work of a hero of an entire generation of American students. Concerning that claim a little skepticism is surely in order. After all, an exhibitionist can be spectacular, and even lionized, in the Animal Houses. Hunter Thompson elicited the same kind of admiration one would feel for a streaker at Queen Victoria's funeral. Here is a passage from Thompson, in which he seeks amusement by recounting the end of a long day with a visiting British friend, identifying himself as "the journalist":

The journalist is driving, ignoring his passenger (the visiting Brit), who is now nearly naked after taking off most of his clothing, which he holds out the window, trying to wind-wash the Mace out of it. His eyes are bright red and his face and chest are soaked with the beer he's been using to rinse the awful chemical off his flesh. The front of his woolen trousers is soaked with vomit; his body is racked with fits of coughing and wild choking sobs. The journalist rams the big car through traffic and into a spot in front of the terminal, then he reaches over to open the door on the passenger's side and shoves the Englishman out, snarling: 'Bug off, you worthless faggot! You twisted pig-(expletive deleted), all the way to Bowling Green, you scum-sucking foreign geek.'

One can be sorry that Hunter Thompson died as he did, but not sorry, surely, that he stopped writing.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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