Many of you who were around in the early days of the progressive blogosphere (meaning before 2006) will remember Billmon. In his time, he was the most brilliant blogger on the internet, bar none. Billmon was one of the earliest guest bloggers on this very here website before he took off on his own and set up a place called the Whiskey Bar, a place where the drinks were always flowing and the posts were always blistering.
Billmon was a pseudonym, although some people claimed to have cracked the secret of his identity. Billmon himself admitted to being a journalist in his past life before changing over as a financial writer working for a big Wall Street firm. His background gave him a heightened knowledge of economics and finance, and he was one of the very few writers on the net who could explain economic imbalances and injustices so lucidly. Today we are privileged to have Jerome a Paris, bonddad and gjohnsit, but verily Billmon was the grandaddy of them all.
To my mind, his brilliance lay in his eloquence and his outrage. He first came into the limelight in 2003 with a post containing nothing but a series of quotes that he put together, coming out of the Bush administration about the invasion of Iraq. He was a serious fan of George Orwell, and could quote from 1984 and Animal Farm almost at will. When he laid into a target, be it Pennsylvania Avenue or Wall Street, he spared no one. The accuracy of his attacks and the violence of his anger combined to expose and destroy all myths, all lies. It is not an exaggeration to say that Billmon's posts sustained many of us during the darkest days - 2004, 2005 and 2006.
He won the Lefty Blog Awards, the Koufax. The comments on some of his best posts quite often ran into 500-600, an extraordinary number at that time. Indeed, he had to shut down comments at one point. His fans promptly set up a separate blog just to discuss his posts! They called it Moon of Alabama (more Brecht references, I believe).
Billmon's posts were of an intensity that must have been hard to maintain. Indeed, on his most productive days he would fire off several posts in quick succession. And everything but EVERYTHING was properly linked and sourced. Billmon often mentioned how much his blogging had taken him away from his family time, his wife and kids.
He first dropped out of blogging before the 2004 elections. If I remember correctly, he wrote in the LA Times about his decision. He went away and for a long while he stayed away. He would make the odd isolated post. Some people called him a quitter, some called him a drama-queen. But those of us who read him for education, pleasure and outrage were rarely disappointed. He came back again, and I remember his magnificent series of posts around the time of the Katrina disaster. In those days, he was in a class of his own.
A Philly paper even got as far as doing a profile of Billmon, though his anonymity was not quite breached. But it all ended a couple of years ago. Billmon stopped blogging, this time permanently. He even put out his website (although I believe his posts are now saved on the net. Whiskeybar.org also has the complete archives.) I was in awe of him, and I'm proud to say that I created the initial Wikipedia entry on Billmon and even defended it against a deletion attempt. I never got around to working on the article much, but others helped out and it has had a fairly stable look for many months now.
The blogger today who reminds me most of Billmon is James Howard Kunstler. Although Kunstler doesn't have nearly the range of Billmon, on his best days, he can be as incandescently brilliant as Billmon in his pomp. They are both true masters of the language. Not the least of the pleasures of reading a classic post by Billmon or Kunstler is the memorable, colourful use of English.
These days, as I see the rise of a true progressive coalition that could change the face of American politics for a generation, I often wonder what Billmon is up to. Does he see how the world seems to have changed? Going by his posts, he must have suffered often from black despair. I wonder if he is more optimistic now, more hopeful for the future. I wonder deeply if he is supporting Barack or Hillary.
I wish he would write again. It's darkest before dawn, and Billmon did sterling service to his readers with his voice of truth and clarity at a very dark time in recent American history. I wonder what he would have to say about politics as we stand on the brink of a more hopeful era.
Billmon, wherever you are I hope you are well. Hats off to you. You were the best, and we haven't seen your like since.