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Monday, October 17, 2005


richard lo cicero

Lucky you Marc. Gore Vidal has been one of my favorite authors for years and while I enjoy his fiction - particularly BURR and LINCOLN - it is the collection of his essays that I find most rewarding. And his memoirs were engrossing to say the least. A national treasure!


I don't have 60 minutes available to listen to the interview at this time, and I'll confess that I have not kept up with Vidal, because we don't travel in the same circles--which is something for which he surely has regrets. Therefore, my thoughts on the man and his ideas come from limited knowledge of him, but that never kept me from forming an opinion in the past.

Any study of the U.S. being a Republic or Empire could start with a history lesson of Rome, because if you know the history of Rome then you know the future of this country. However, an empire like that of Rome, which followed the Roman Republic, is not remotely what we have. Frankly, the U.S. doesn't conquer lands and keep them, tax them, and take their resources--like the old Roman Empire or even the more recent and former British Empire. In fact, we have gone the other way to help other countries to become independent democracies. From what I can tell, Vidal sees the question first as an intellectual pursuit, which I genuinely appreciate. However, in arguing the question as he does, he mixes with the left that likes to criticize Bush and the U.S. (See "Republic or Empire? - http://www.thenation.com/doc/20030303/wilson ) I don't believe that everything that is bad has to describe this country and this administration.

Vidal has made so many outrageous statements and taken so many outrageous positions, that I find it hard to even want to consider what he says or to believe that, somehow, it represents wisdom that we should accept. (This goes for a few commenters here, too, and I suspect their feelings are mutual.)

Vidal continues to believe that the United States should not have become involved in World War II, has suggested that President Roosevelt "incited" the Japanese to attack the United States to allow American entry into the war, believes that FDR had advanced knowledge of the attack, has written sympathetically of Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma City terrorist attack and suggested that the attack may have been carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to pass stronger anti-terrorist laws. ( Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gore_Vidal ) Maybe he can tell us who really killed Kennedy.

So, am I to get excited when the says that Americans "are now governed by a junta of oil-Pentagon men" or that we are an empire?

There was another article from two years ago, which has some issues in common to those raised here. (I'm curious as to whether any of Vidal's views changed during the interim.) The article, by a well known, well liked, and well respected journalist, starts with,
"It's lucky for George W. Bush that he wasn’t born in an earlier time and somehow stumbled into America’s Constitutional Convention. A man with his views, so depreciative of democratic rule, would have certainly been quickly exiled from the freshly liberated United States by the gaggle of incensed Founders. So muses one of our most controversial social critics and prolific writers, Gore Vidal."
Of course, that assumes a lot, but it is more likely that the founders would have accepted Bush--not for the ideas that he has today in a world where we cannot be isolationists but for the way that he would have believed back then. Bush supports commerce just like the early founders. Even better, Bush believes that the original Constitution that they wrote is better than the one that the left has twisted into a "living (and therefore dying) constitution.

Within the article Vidal also answered the question "Do you not think of Bush and Ashcroft as Americans?" by saying
"I think of them as an alien army. They have managed to take over everything, and quite in the open. We have a deranged president. We have despotism. We have no due process."
So a later question asked, "Speaking of elections, is George W. Bush going to be re-elected next year?" to which he responded,
"No. At least if there is a fair election."
I guess he was wrong about that...along with a lot of other things.

Here's the link to that article: (Uncensored Gore - http://www.laweekly.com/ink/03/52/features-cooper.php )

There is one thing that I have in common with Gore Vidal. It is summed up by this quotation from him: "There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise." ( Vidal Quotations - http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Gore_Vidal/ )

Take heed.

P.S. The Angels just lost. Sorry. They couldn't catch a break from the umpires. It's likely a White Sox - Astros World Series. Who's Vidal picking to win?

Marc Cooper

Woody... I DESPISE the Angels. May they rot in hell. Dont know who Gore would prefer in terms of baseball. Indeed, in the interview he says some disparaging things to say about the subject.

I dont think Bush would have fit in very well with the founders, sorry. It's not so much about his vews per se, but rather his lack of them. Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and in his own way even Washington were towering intellectuals. True polymaths. Extraordinarily erudite and learned. In their company, alas, GW Bush would be rather a squeaking door mouse, I think. As would John Kerry, Hillary and her crew I hasten to add. I really dont think you can make any comparisons. Franklin helped unlock the secrets of electricity. Together the founders established the most advanced republic ever known in modern history. And Bush? I think he used his pop's money to buy ....well.. to come full circle, a baseball team.

Vidal, politically, may indeed be given to hyperbole and over-statement. But he is a writer and novelist, not a Senator or Governor. It's not his job to be right or wrong or may accurate or inaccurate political predictions. His role is to provoke us into thought and debate. He has done an able job for six decades in advancing our cultural production-- penning two dozen novels (among them a good handful of historical masterpieces) that even millions of conservatives read and actually appreciate. I can guarantee you that what Vidal has forgotten about, say, Burr and Lincoln is more than GW has ever cared to even know on the subject. And decades from now, when the Bush admin is but an asterisk (as that is all that it will be) and long after DeLay and Frist get out of jail-- Americans will still be reading new editions of Vidal's books.


Look forward to listening. His is a great and glorious voice. BTW, Marc, whose portrait of Vidal have you posted? Nice. Has distant Don Bachardy, elements.

Freddy the Pig

"Maybe he can tell us who really killed Kennedy."

I believe he once used the phrase "Palermo send-off" in a piece, and expressed general agreement with the theory that it was arranged by Carlos Marcello, mob boss of New Orleans. Personally, I think Oswald acted alone except for the voices in his own nutty head, but the one thing that makes me wonder is the proximity of Marcello to two strikingly similar assassinations both apparently committed by lone kooks-- the killing of Kennedy, and what is usually referred to as the assassination attempt on FDR, in which a young Italian fellow, at near-point blank range to the president, managed to miss FDR and fatally wound the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, who had recently made his own botched attempt on the life of Frank Nitti, Capone's successor. (It happened in Florida, Marcello territory, to which Cermak had fled after the failed hit.) So I don't believe a conspiracy killed Kennedy, but if one did, that was the one.

Otherwise, he's gone off the deep end expressing admiration for a resentful government-teat-sucker like McVeigh as some sort of Minuteman hero, and other outrageous things he's said to keep an increasingly undergraduate audience, but yeah, Lincoln, Burr, 1876, Myra Breckinridge, they'll last.

Dan O

Wow. For a long time now Vidal has been my favorite writer, and he is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. I can't wait to fire this up! And you get to go to his house for sixty minute interviews....I'm too jealous to say anything else.

Virgil Johnson

Marc, very good interview - yes he was somewhat dark, but I don't really know how he could have been any different - in light of our recent history. To be frank, I don't know how he keeps from falling into despair - when you have plumbed the depths of historic greatness, and the characters who contributed (at least from a standpoint of their intellectual depth and resource)to the degree that he has, it gets lonely. It is difficult because mountain peaks have a lot of solitude, and few have gained their height so as to commune. I think he is a great man.

As far as GW finding a place among the founders, I would cut a little slack for Woody - because our founders, the towering intellects were still White property owning/slave holding men. So bush would have at least had something in common with them - their self-interest. Other than that he would have been a midget among giants - they might have used him to pass out leaflets espousing their cause of freedom, with the "squeak of a mouse" but not much else. Other than that Woody falls nicely into the category of sports knowledge that Gore spoke of ...lol.

Thanks for the interview.


haha, Marc. Good on ya, to despise the angels. Just don't tell me that you're a Dodgers fan.

If you're a real fan of the proletariat, you'd be an A's fan :-)


Oh, yeah. I forgot to say.


you're a crypto-fascist!


Marc Cooper

Kevin.. Woody's a conservative and not a fascist. BIG difference.

I used to be a Dodger fan. I try to be a Dodger fan. But the ownership and the team are disabusing me of that addiction.

I went to 3-4 games the first month of the season and then pulled the plug.

Walter Cronkite

I see you used my protrait. You may not think so, but that's the way it is.

Abbas-Ali Abadani

I share Vidal's pessimism.

Those who have a grasp of history can't feel any other way.

If you know how the whole thing's going to turn out, don't bother with the pundits.

Read Toynbee, Livy, Gibbon, Barzun and, of course, Vidal.



"If you *want* to know..." etc.


Today is the last day for extended income tax returns to be mailed, so any thoughtful comments from me will have to wait until after the post office closes at midnight.

To give it a quick hit, if Vidal says disparaging things about baseball, then he is missing a lot about the game that goes beyond sports--the part that is about families connecting, about America, about politics, and about life. I always liked James Earle Jones remarks about the subject in Field of Dreams.
"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers; it has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Ohhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."
One other point--I can tell whom should get my vote simply by watching how he throws out the first pitch. If a candidate throws like a girl or acts like he's never been on the field, he can go straight to the showers. (See Carter, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and, soon, HRC.)

I'm glad to see Marc write: "Together the founders established the most advanced republic ever known in modern history." I agree, and that makes me wonder why the left (not Marc) attacks them. Our founders deserve respect and appreciation for their wisdom and the risks that they took--for what they gave us. I believe that Bush holds the core values that our founders put forth, and he wants to continue those values through his Supreme Court choices. But, you can't judge a man of today against a period of history in which he didn't live. If Bush lived in the 18th century, he would have adapted to that period as he adapted to ours by becoming President.

On Marc's comment about Vidal: "His role is to provoke us into thought and debate." I agree to an extent and appreciate that. However, I suspect that Vidal goes beyond just provoking thought and gets into telling us that we should accept and follow his teachings--sort of like Bush saying that we should trust him on Harriet Meir. I'll listen, but I'll make up my own mind--and it likely will be different because of my experiences and left-brained thought process, which is different from that of most writers--even successful ones.

I don't know the meaning of "crypto-facist," which Kevin used, so I had to look it up. Wikipedia has this definition and history, which I believe is relevant and interesting and maybe helpful to others, as well.

"Crypto-fascism is when a party or group secretly adheres to the doctrines of fascism while attempting to disguise it as another political movement. The term is in a similar vein to crypto-Judaism or crypto-Christianity, referring to the secret practice of one faith while adhering to another religion publicly.

"Origins: The term is mainly credited to Gore Vidal. During a television interview in 1968, during the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Vidal described William F. Buckley as a "crypto-Nazi" and later corrected himself as meaning to describe him as a "crypto-fascist". The term has been used frequently in Gore Vidal's literature and by others, including Vidal's adherents.

"William F. Buckley's famous response to the term was, "Now, listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face." This is according to several sources, including Esquire Magazine at the time.

"Revival: In America, the term crypto-fascist has been revived by some critics to describe the neoconservative movement, especially in reference to various national security measures taken after the September 11th attacks. Many conservatives consider the term offensive, and some have even called it hate speech."

There you have it. Nope, I'm not a crypto-fascist, but I won't respond like Buckley--even though I don't fault him for his colorful response. I'm glad to know that the term represents hate speech so that I can learn what it's like to feel offended. (Is Vidal really a queer, and did he stop calling Buckley that term after that point?)

People are still bringing me "just one more deduction" that they forgot, so this should be it for the day.


"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball"

I understand Woody's politics...finally. If he'll believe that, he'll believe anything. You've got a guy like Mark McGuire - who as an Oakland denizen I've had a great affection for over the years - hauled in front of Senate committee, coming off like a goddam Enron executive, Conseco going all National Enquirer to boost his book sales and Barry Bonds rubbing his fans' faces in what shits sports pros can be ("not to mention" - which means I'm about to mention - the "If you don't build it, we will leave!" owners' blackmail of taxpayers, or the players who take drugs not for performance enhancement but for the same reason "normal people" take them - to get high !), and Woody - God bless him - thinks baseball is some constant in our national life that we can rely on in reaffirming our good old-fashioned, all-American family values. I wish...

If Woody believes that, he'll believe anything that he needs to believe so as not to tip the delicate balance of his nostalgia and his naivete. The plastic president George W. Bush narrative fits into this quaint and occasionally charming mindset perfectly - without the superior skill and focused ambition that is a given among professional athletes of course. (Or it did... I understand Woody's pissed because too many cracks in Bush's alleged "conservatism" are showing, even in the eyes of the faithful.) Woody is not a crypto-fascist. He's a dreamer standing out in a political cornfield...wishing away the scandals, the dirt, the disappointments, the disasters. ("It's the Democrats fault, goddammit.") If we could only turn back the clock and get back to basics as exemplified by baseball, no less, everything might...just might...turn...out...okay.

As for Vidal, yes Woody, he's "a queer". That old exchange between Buckley and Vidal was one of the high points of televised "political debate" and years before "The Crossfire Group". Two of the smartest, most literate, most pretentious and pedigreed guys on the planet, calling each other ugly names in front of millions of viewers. Hell, Woody and I can pull that off, although our audience is admittedly much smaller and we'd probably have to combine our IQs to match either one of theirs.


"...we'd probably have to combine our IQs to match either one of theirs."

reg, surely your IQ exceeds eight.


Woody, unlike you and your preening, high-falutin' cohorts in MENSA, Buckley and Vidal, I at least have the virute of humility.


The downside is that it's difficult for me to spell...

Mavis Beacon

I listened to the interview (albiet while washing dishes) and I was a bit disappointed. Gore reminded me of my grandfather, a man I have tremendous respect for and who has taught me so much, but whose politics are now something of a mishmash. The principles are still there, and every now and then there's something truly insightful, but mostly I hear unbridled negativity butressed by a litany of almost irrelevent, pessimistic complaints. Vidal gives us a few nuggests, but you have to work hard to get past the veil of doom.


I haven't had time to listen to the interview yet, although I will because I find Vidal somewhat entertaining - i.e. this is a "blind comment".

To be honest, I think that Mavis is on to something fundamental about Vidal. Whenever I listen to or read something by him I have the distinct sense that it's the voice of a highly intelligent, very elegant, extremely witty crank. And it's gotten worse as he's aged. Personally, I prefer Norman Mailer as a lefty-literary political crank to Vidal, if only because Mailer's voice doesn't have the quality of someone who rarely rises from their armchair. Hunter Thompson was, of course, the socio-political-commentator-as-unbridled-crank par excellence because the lunacy and the lucidity were as one - it was an ass-out assault on normative "wisdom" that made even the self-styled macho existentialist Mailer seem very tame and pale in comparison.

Marc Cooper

That's an amazing clairvoyant skill you have Reg -- to be able to know what someone is saying without having heard it. Pretty cool.

Vidal, I will readily admit, is an eccentric. And one prone to witty hperbole. But to dismiss him as a crank seems just a bit excessive.

I must also say, without starting some literary catfight, that the last time I saw Norman Mailer -- about two years ago at a friend's luncheon-- he was completely off the deep end;immersed in conspiracy theory and affirming we were living in fascism. I noted that the food was quite good for a totalitarian regime.

Freddy the Pig

"(Is Vidal really a queer"

Um... yes, you DO need to read Myra Breckinridge! Although Vidal, partly due to the generation he belongs to perhaps, tended to resist identifying himself as homosexual (saying the word described acts not people); nevertheless, one of the key cultural figures in gay identity, mainly due to that wonderful, twisted bestseller of your mom and dad's era.

I also think he's an old crank on many topics, yet Vidal remains well worth listening to, as long as the subject is more than about ten years old. I cannot praise Lincoln highly enough, as one of the few (only?) books to portray Lincoln as the extraordinarily canny politician he was without falling prey to cheap debunking; his Lincoln is as coolly insightful and manipulative as Don Corleone, yet never takes his eye off the ball of the great moral cause which he is usually busy denying he's engaged in.


Marc..please, I was making a general comment on what I percieve as Vidal's Cassandra Complex over the years...not disparaging this interview. I'll settle for "eccentric prone to witty hyperbole". That veers pretty close to "crank" on a bad day...which admittedly Norman Mailer has been having more than his share of in recent years as well. I know that Mailer's pretty nuts - and always has been - but he's done some very insightful political/journalistic work over the years, along with some stuff that's just dreadful. Probably more of the latter.

Also, after working in a couple of fairly decent restaurants in my younger days and observing first-hand the personality traits and administrative styles of certain chefs, I would conclude that there's absolutely no conflict between totalitarianism and excellent food.

Freddy the Pig

Oops, I meant to say something about Mailer; too bad he's gone off the conspiratorial deep end because he wrote some really insightful things about the Soviets' wiretaps of Oswald living in Russia when those were released about a decade ago. His point about Oswald and Ruby both, which I think is hard to refute, was that closely examined, their behaviors clearly demonstrated the childish impulsiveness and lack of purpose of the typical screwed-up criminal, as opposed to the goal-oriented direction of the conspirer. Ten minutes before shooting Oswald, Ruby was in a line at a bank; if some little old lady in front of him had been depositing a jar full of pennies, he'd never have been in place to shoot Oswald. That makes no sense from a conspiracy point of view but perfect sense in the sort of low-grade hoodlum mind in which the idea to shoot somebody pops into your head and gets acted upon within a few minutes.

Of course, how you square that with Ruby having been an employee of Carlos Marcello, I don't know....

Marc Cooper

Vidal's breakthrough gay novel-- one of the first ever in America-- was published in 1948: The City and the Pillar, twp decades before Myra Breckenbridge. He was 23 and Pillar was already his third novel. The NYTimes excoriated it and him. And though he published 6 more novels in six years he was blackballed by the literary establishment reviewers and kept anonymous. That homophobic reaction is what forced him to do a decade's worth of TV, film and Broadway writing which made him a lot of dough. IN 1964 he returned to fiction with Julian (and Burr and Lincoln) which was a commercial success.
His reluctance to call himself "gay" is not a generational skittishness. It responds to a much more profound theory of sexuality on which he has written amply-- including a Nation cover story some time ago. It's about principles, not coyness or shame. Reading his sizzling memoir, I dont you think find any hesitation from him in describing his sexual appetites.

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