Monday, March 28, 2005

165. Gore Vidal on the Undoing of America

Gore Vidal stands apart from the American mainstream (he is, in fact, related to the former vice-president Al Gore and also to the late Jackie Kennedy) in that he turned away from the land of his birth and upbringing and in the manner of a much earlier generation of East Coast intellectuals (Whistler, Sargent, Henry James) sought and found a more congenial setting for his art in Europe. Although living in exile - in a comfortable villa in Italy, as it happens - Vidal, like Joyce before him, never took his eyes off his native country and has written a series of novels concerned with American social, historical and political themes.

While still living in America in the 1950s and 60s he was a provocative figure who got up the nose of the Great and the Good. He was both physically attacked by Norman Mailer and verbally abused (on live television) by William Buckley, Jr. He deplores the imperial overreach of his homeland - and has done so consistently since the early years of the Cold War - while maintaining his own form of awkward, clear-eyed patriotism. He fought as a soldier in World War II and characterises his life's work and outspoken opinions (those familiar with Roman history will recognise the analogy) as a last-ditch defence of the American Republic. I would urge you to read the full interview by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post. (dedalus)

The man himself Posted by Hello

In an interview with Steve Perry of the Minneapolis/St Paul City Pages Gore Vidal speaks on war for oil, politics-free elections, and the late, great U.S. Constitution.


CP: Clearly Bush does represent something radical and new, and there's been an understandable tendency on the part of people who don't like where the country is going to focus their outrage exclusively on Bush and the Republicans. But don't the media and the Democrats come in for a great deal of blame for creating the political vacuum in which he rose?

Vidal: Well, the media is on the other side. The media belongs to the big money, and the big money, their candidates, their party, is the Republican Party as now constituted. So everybody is behaving typically [in media]. What isn't typical is a Democratic Party that has also sold out. There are just as many lobbyists and propagandists there as on the other side. They're never going to regain anything until they remember that they're supposed to represent the people at large, and not the very rich.

But they need the very rich in order to be able to run for office, to buy television time. I'd say if you really want to date the crash of the American system, the American republic, it was in the early '50s, when television suddenly emerged as the central fact of American life. That which was not televised did not exist. And any preacher, because religion is tax-free--I would tax all the religions, by the way--any evangelical who wants to get up there and say, send me millions of dollars and I will cure you of your dandruff, he gets to spend the money any way he likes, and there's no tax on it. So he can have political action groups, which he's not supposed to have but does have. So you have all that religious money, and then you have the enormous cost of campaigning, which means every politician who wants to buy TV time has got to sell his ass to somebody. And corporate America is ready to buy.

CP: Likewise, there's a great tendency among his detractors to call Bush stupid. You've called him "dumb," albeit not as dumb as his dad. But I'm recalling what you wrote about Ronald Reagan years ago in your review of the Ronnie Leamer book about him: that no one who's stupid aces every career test he faces. The same is clearly not true of George W. Bush, who had failed in a lot of things before he entered politics. But he hasn't failed in politics. Do you think Bush possesses a kind of intelligence akin to Reagan's in that regard, or is that giving him too much credit? How do you think his mind works?

Vidal: I should think very oddly. He's dyslexic, which means--it's a problem of incoherence. I have some dyslexia in my family, and they can be reasonably intelligent about most things, but they have problems with words, the structure of language. Not really getting it. There's an inability to study anything. Sometimes they also have an attention deficiency and so on.

I would say that he is undisturbed by these things. His is a mind totally lacking in culture of any kind. I'm not talking about highbrow culture, just knowledge of the American past, and our institutions. He's got rid of due process of law, which is what the United States is based upon. Once you can send somebody off and put them in the brig of a ship in Charleston Harbor and hold them as long as you like uncharged, you have destroyed the United States and its Constitution. He has done those things.

Full article here