Buckley and Mr. Vidal both subscribed, though in very different ways, to the ideal of American exceptionalism — with its suggestion that even as the nation stood apart from or above other nations, it was susceptible to foreign infection. Mr. Vidal feared the evils of empire building (a continuous theme in his historical novels) and warned against the decline that had overtaken other civilizations brought low by imperial hubris.
For Buckley the threat came from global communism and “statist” domestic policies that would reduce Americans to servitude and weaken their connection to the moral values of Christianity.
It was this two-sides-of-the-same-coin idealism that led to the heated exchange in 1968.
(Photo: ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)