Nothing unifies people on opposite sides of our hairline fracture of a political divide quite like a public figure who openly ridicules their shared sacred cows. Here we have a conservative and an apparent progressive reviling the prince of darkness himself, Gore Vidal, for more or less the exact same reasons. You might think the man was a cannibal or something, but no—his real sins were sympathizing with terrorists, having the gall to believe that a U.S. president might have been involved in a conspiracy to drag the country into war, and, of course, anti-Semitism, that catch-all smear for anyone who opposes America’s pro-Israel foreign policy or, worse, suggests that Israel might actually be involved in a land-grab rather than defending its poor innocent self against those bloodthirsty Palestinians.
Not surprisingly, the Slate piece was the more humorless of the two, adding racism and elitism (i.e., conservatism) to the list of crimes. You see, apparently there was a split in the progressive movement around the time of WWI, with the Woodrow Wilson and Teddy R. strain, the true progressives, bringing us the New Deal, and the other strain, embodied by Vidal’s grandfather and presumably Vidal himself, morphing into “Heartland conservatives” who hated immigrants and European cosmopolitanism, and who were isolationists (which, in case you didn’t know, also means anti-Semite). A couple of nice ironies here. First of all, I don’t think you could find a better example of a European cosmopolitan than Gore Vidal, who lived in Rome and had a villa on the Amalfi Coast and who relentlessly ridiculed the cultural backwardness of bible-thumping Americans (and who proclaimed that all people were naturally bi-sexual). And second, Woodrow Wilson, exemplar of the right and true progressive path? He may be the closest the U.S. has had to a Klansman-in-chief.
It’s true that Vidal was an elitist. Just the other day I heard an excerpt from an old radio interview in which he said that all social change comes from the people at the top, not the bottom. I guess that explains his inability to completely shake his affinity for the Democratic Party, and his belief that Hillary Clinton would have been something other than just another typical president. To my mind, these are surer signs of malign influence than any sympathy he had for the victims at Ruby Ridge.
Quibbles with his politics aside, though, his essays (haven’t read any of his fiction) are a pure pleasure to read. He was a master of deadpan mockery and the elegant put-down, and watching him (in print or on TV) destroy the self-appointed guardians of the political status quo, like the two clowns linked to above, is about as enjoyable a spectator sport as there is.