I've been looking for a while — ever since the passing over a week ago — for a way to eulogize Gore Vidal. For my money, Vidal was one of this nation's best-of-bests: one of our best writers, best historians, and best political thinkers.
His style is a delight, his story-telling superb, and his insight in a class with Chomsky's and Zinn's.
So in memoriam Gore Vidal, I offer these.
First, from a banned (at the time) interview and portrait written for Hollywood's trade paper Variety, but never run. The occasion was the release of the stunning Tim Robbins film of 1992, Bob Roberts. My emphasis and paragraphing throughout.
On Bill Clinton:
The only plus about Clinton is that he has absolutely no principles of any sort, and he's intelligent.And then the following, from an excellent eulogy by the masterful John Nichols, a Vidal fan and friend (lucky man indeed). His memorial piece should be read through; it's that good.
Franklin Roosevelt was like that, too. A principled man, like Herbert Hoover, will stick to a balanced budget whatever happens, and the stock market will crash. Roosevelt, faced with the Depression, took us off the gold standard and put the economy back on course. ...
[But] Clinton hasn't got the character of Roosevelt — you can have character without principles.
Here's a taste:
“Policy formation is the province of a bipartisan power elite of corporate rich [Rockefeller, Mellon] and their career hirelings [Nixon, McNamara] who work through an interlocking and overlapping maze of foundations, universities and institutes, discussion groups, associations and commissions...My word for "hirelings" is "retainers" — I think Vidal's is both more accurate and more impertinent. Points to him for both. (By the way, "underclasses" means "rubes." Just saying.)
“Political parties are only for finding interesting and genial people [usually ambitious middle-class lawyers] to ratify and implement these policies in such a way that the under classes feel themselves to be, somehow, a part of the governmental process.
Politics is not exactly the heart of the action but it is nice work—if you can afford to campaign for it.”
Here's Gore Vidal on Shays' Rebellion, taught in "standard" (i.e., rinsed in orthodoxy) history books as the first "bad" rebellion against the "good" founders' republic:
“Property is power, as those Massachusetts veterans of the revolution discovered when they joined Captain Daniel Shays in his resistance to the landed gentry’s replacement of a loose confederation of states with a tax-levying central government,” Gore wrote in 1972.Here's what Vidal meant by the term Property Party (from elsewhere in Nichol's eulogy):
“The veterans thought that they had been fighting a war for true independence. They did not want London to be replaced by New York.
They did want an abolition of debts and a division of property. Their rebellion was promptly put down.
But so shaken was the elite by the experience that their most important (and wealthiest) figure grimly emerged from private life with a letter to Harry Lee.
‘You talk of employing influence,’ wrote George Washington, ‘to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is no government. Let us have one by which our lives, liberties and properties will be secured or let us know the worst at once.’
So was born the Property Party and with it the Constitution of the United States. We have known the ‘best’ for nearly 200 years. What would the ‘worst’ have been like?”
Gore imagined a “Property Party”—or, to be more precise, he renewed an old populist critique that employed variations on the term—that was made up of Democrats and Republicans with shared loyalty to their paymasters on Wall Street.Sound familiar? (I'll have what he's having. It didn't hurt him one bit.)
Farewell, Mr. Vidal. You're horribly missed, at least in this man's estimation.
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