June 12, 2024

Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson

Source: Gage Skidmore

Because I’ve been on the road promoting my anthology Noticing, I decided to review Tucker Carlson’s anthology of his journalism, The Long Slide.

Unlike with me, writing an article means that Tucker gets out of his house:

I wrote magazine stories for decades, long after I went into television and no longer needed the $600. I did it because it was interesting. In order to produce a decent magazine piece, you had to go places, meet people, see unusual things. It was an adventure every time.

The two most memorable of his magazine articles were a couple he wrote for Esquire in 2003–2004, back when there were still general interest magazines that wouldn’t quibble about a sizable expense account for a foreign correspondent.

“Carlson is a rare example of an ethnic type America used to have more of: the high WASP adventuresome eccentric.”

In “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” Tucker accompanies Al Sharpton, Cornel West, and several friendly Black Muslims to Ghana, where Rev. Al vaguely hopes to hammer out a diplomatic deal to end the Liberian civil war that was provoked by President Charles Taylor’s larcenous greed. Esquire subtitled Carlson’s article:

Recently, an eminent, varied, large, and unlikely delegation of Americans, led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, went to Africa to heal a wounded continent. They took the whitest man in America with them.

A good time was had by all in the Accra hotel, except for the poor folks back home in Liberia, who kept fighting until the bloody end.

The most spectacular story is “Hired Guns.” In retrospect, Tucker writes two decades later:

Probably no story I ever did changed my views more than a trip I took to Iraq for Esquire magazine in 2003. I arrived a tepid supporter of the war, and of neoconservatism more generally. I returned home a determined opponent of both.

In it, Tucker accompanies American civilian contractors (i.e., mercenaries) on a Mad Max run through the gauntlet from Kuwait to Baghdad:

To make the SUVs harder to hit, we’d be traveling fast, between 110 and 120 miles per hour the whole way, including, if possible, through towns. “Pretty much for no reason will we stop,” Jack said. “Drivers, if you’re disabled in the kill zone, stay off the brakes. We’ll ram you out of there.”

Not surprisingly, SUVs don’t get good gas mileage at 115 mph. But refueling in a recently semi-conquered Iraqi city presents its own challenges:

…every station has a gas line…. People can wait for days, camped out in their cars, for a full tank. We had no intention of doing that. Waiting in line, stationary and exposed, was simply too dangerous. Instead, we commandeered the gas station….

Kelly motioned for me to stand guard with my rifle by the back wall. There was a large and growing crowd around us. It looked hostile.

And no wonder. We’d swooped in and stolen their places in line, reminding them, as if they needed it, of the oldest rule there is: armed people get to do exactly what they want; everyone else has to shut up and take it.

It seems as if our politicians should have been able to anticipate better than they did that sending American men with guns to roar around Iraq like they owned the place was going to make Iraqi males resent us. Tucker writes:

It wasn’t until later, after we’d left the gas station and were back on the highway that I felt guilty about any of this…. There had been quite a few children there. I’d seen them watching as we forced their fathers out of the way to get to the pumps. “We neutered their dads,” Kelly said. He was right. We had. And we’d had no choice. It was horrible if you thought about it.

We don’t hear much about empathy on the right, but it would be useful if masculine American men trained themselves to think through how their tough-guy peers in other countries are going to feel about our foreign policy intrusions into their homelands.

Speaking of driving fast, like so many future journalists, Tucker obsessed as an adolescent over the most perfect pages of comic rhetoric penned by a 20th-century American, the opening to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The book made me want to drop everything (specifically, the sixth grade) and take up journalism. It made me want to travel the world with a pen and notebook…. But, mostly, it made me want to do drugs.

The adolescent Tucker resolved to try the entire contents of the Great Red Shark’s trunk. As Thompson wrote:

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers…and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls…. The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge, and I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.

Tucker recounts:

I resolved to try it all, down to the ether, which I finally located midway through tenth grade in a head shop on the West Side of Manhattan. (It gave me double vision and a headache.)…

For me, the whole experience was interesting and fun. I had a great time. On the other hand, I grew out of it. By the time I got to college, mind expansion had lost its appeal. I switched to beer.

Like Thompson, Carlson is a rare example of an ethnic type America used to have more of: the high WASP adventuresome eccentric.

He’s an amiable nonconformist.

Tucker remains genially boyish in the American movie-star tradition. What film critic John Simon wrote about the young Jeff Bridges in 1975 can be said of Tucker in his 50s:

He has, in fact, the quality that has made American movie actors universally beloved: a boyishness so perdurable, so monumental, that it surpasses mere manhood. It is what established Gary Cooper and James Stewart, for example: a kind of hopeful, naive vulnerability that, when sufficiently provoked, will sweetly, innocently mow down its antagonists.

Of course, most contrarians like to advertise their nonconformity in childishly rude ways. Yet, for a long time, the only outer indication that Tucker was a freethinker was that he used to, like Roger Kimball, wear a bow tie.

Yet, during the dismal decade of the Great Awokening, Carlson became a crucial thought leader during the high tide of intellectual conformity, which in 2024 now seems to be receding (knock on wood).

Tucker has probably contributed as much as anybody to America’s new birth of freedom.


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