Gore Vidal died in July at the age of 86 and these four previously unavailable interviews, spanning 20 years, show him talking in his usual provocative, stimulating, humorous and sometimes petty fashion.
Witty quips are scattered throughout I Told You So. Quizzed on whether it was true that actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon asked him to be godfather of their new baby, Vidal says: "Always a godfather, never a god."
The interviews, printed in reverse chronological order with 2008 first, have common themes - such as his influential grandfather, his play The Best Man or the presidency of J.F. Kennedy. Kennedy was an "operator", says Vidal, and JFK's family "had all the charm of two tons of condemned veal".
Before the nineteen-seventies, most Republicans in official Washington accepted the institutions of the welfare state, and most Democrats agreed with the logic of the Cold War. Despite the passions over various issues, government functioned pretty well. Legislators routinely crossed party lines when they voted, and when they drank; filibusters in the Senate were reserved for the biggest bills; think tanks produced independent research, not partisan talking points. The "D." or "R." after a politician's name did not tell you what he thought about everything, or everything you thought about him.
To Phyllis Schlafly and the New Right, this consensus amounted to liberalism, and in the nineteen-seventies they began to use guerrilla tactics--direct mail, single-issue pressure groups, right-wing think tanks, insurgent campaigns. By the nineties, conservatives had begun to take over the institutions of government. Liberals copied their success: the Heritage Foundation led to the Center for American Progress, the Moral Majority to People for the American Way, Bill O'Reilly to Keith Olbermann. The people Washington attracts now tend to be committed activists, who think of themselves as locked in an existential struggle over the fate of the country, and are unwilling to yield an inch of ground.
Meanwhile, another army has invaded Washington: high-priced influence peddlers working on behalf of corporations and the wealthy, seducing officials of both parties and daily routing the public interest. The War of Organized Money goes on almost unnoticed outside the capital, but the War Between the Colors reflects a real divide in the country, the sorting of Americans into ideologically separate districts and lives. From time to time, a looming disaster--such as the upcoming budget crisis--leads to negotiations and a brief truce. But the fighting never really stops.
-- George Packer, "Adversaries," The New Yorker, Oct. 29 & Nov. 5, 2012, p. 88.
The Economist wants President Obama to hug a Republican, but they're clearly frustrated by the modern American GOP:
But what about the Republicans? Their script is depressingly easy to write. The party’s leaders will once again conclude that they lost because their candidate was not a genuine conservative, and vow to find the real thing next time.
If the Republicans do that they will be abandoning all electoral sense. They managed to lose an election again in a country where conservatives still handily outnumber liberals by lumbering Mr Romney with extremist positions, such as rejecting any budget deal involving tax rises even if spending cuts were ten times greater. Their obsession with abortion and gay marriage seems ever more out of touch with women and young people. And their harshness towards illegal immigrants cost them the growing Latino vote, 71% of which went to Mr Obama. Plenty of independent voters, and this newspaper, yearn for a more pragmatic Republican Party. Doing a deal on the deficit with Mr Obama would signal its rebirth.
In another article in the same issue, The Economist looks at the ''remaking of the president''
Mr Romney won the white vote by 59% to 39%—an improvement over John McCain’s showing in 2008. But in Midwestern swing states, that margin was narrower: just four points in Wisconsin, for example, and 15 in Ohio.
Over the course of his presidency, [Obama] has pointedly unveiled policies designed to appeal to each element of this coalition.
Perhaps the best illustration of Mr Obama’s campaign-by-niches is his wooing of gay voters. The 5% of voters who identified themselves as gay in exit polls opted for Mr Obama by 76% to 22%—enough to account for his entire margin of victory.
''The late Gore Vidal used to argue that the American idea rests on the proposition that the end doesn't justify the means, and I think he was right." - Stephen L. Carter, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale
Democracy cannot flourish when electoral politics is exalted above all things. The entire point of the concern for civil society is that a successful nation needs its people to be focused on matters more important than transitory partisan advantage. A nation where friends can no longer hold political discussions, for no other reason than that they disagree, is a nation not only in decline but, in the Weberian sense of nationhood-as-common-interest, on the verge of collapse.
And our decline matters. I am naive enough, in the innocence of late middle age, to believe that America should still be a beacon to the world, a nation worth imitating. Plenty of countries around the globe have learned to imitate our self-seeking, our obsessions with wealth and celebrity, and our growing incivility. Before selecting our public behaviors, we should perhaps think a bit harder about what it is that we want to export.
- Yale Divinity School's Reflections: Who Are We? American Values Revisited, Fall - 2012
Nicholas Lemann's New Yorker article, "Transaction Man," about Mitt Romney is divided into sections Church, Business, Politics, and The Rescuer. The business section has some handy summaries.
This section put Mitt's father's business era in context and connects it to now.
In the nineteen-seventies, the balance of power began to shift from production to capital, and corporate America started to seem lumbering and inefficient. This shift was the business world’s version of the sixties—one (younger and impatient) group of politically conservative businesspeople challenging another (older and more traditional) group. The field of battle was not politics, culture, dress, or taste in music. It was the American corporation, and the consequences for the whole society were profound. The business sixties wound up rearranging most of the American economy. General Motors has fewer than half as many employees today as it did in 1955, and, among the American corporations that were great at mid-century, it’s hardly alone. George Romney was an organization man. Mitt Romney became a transaction man: someone who moves assets around with a speed and force that leaves many of the rest of us bewildered. The insurrection in business has profoundly affected the lives of most people who work, pay taxes, and get government benefits. It is the backdrop to this Presidential election.
Lemann also looks at proposed the corporate innovations that informed Mitt Romney's own practices.
In 1976, two members of the faculty at the University of Rochester’s business school, Michael Jensen and William Meckling, published an article in the obscure Journal of Financial Economics called “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure.” It provided the intellectual foundation for bringing together one set of ideas about how to change the ownership structure of a company with another set of ideas about how to change the way it operated. That consolidation led to the creation of Bain Capital, in 1984, and made Mitt Romney very rich.
Jensen and Meckling argued that publicly held corporations were poorly managed, because their chief executives, with their generous salaries and high job security, had no real incentive to “maximize the value of the firm.” If a company could be restructured so that it was run by the owner, and if it could take on a lot of new debt that it had to pay down with cash, then it would maximize its value, rather than the comfort and prestige of its C.E.O. In the nineteen-eighties, Harvard Business School hired Michael Jensen as a faculty member, and the battles between him and the pro-corporate professors defined the intellectual life of the school just as much as the battles over critical legal studies defined Harvard Law School when Obama was a student there. Jensen argued in favor of junk bonds, hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts, and stock options for chief executives. Mitt Romney and others, with these new techniques at their disposal, were able to raise pools of capital and use it to slice, dice, and rearrange the American economy. In a speech in 1993, Jensen announced that the country was experiencing a “third industrial revolution.” It was as economically consequential, he said, and likely to become as politically and culturally controversial, as the industrial revolutions of the nineteenth century.
The Economist: Gore Vidal.
PHOTO GALLERY, The New York Times: Gore Vidal 1925-2012
The New York Times: Prolific, Elegant, Acerbic Writer
CNN Opinion - Dick Cavett: Gore Vidal Hates Being Dead
The Hollywood Reporter: Why Hollywood Owes a Debt of Gratitude to Gore Vidal
San Francisco Chronicle: Gore Vidal, Celebrated Author, Playwright, Dies
The Telegraph: Gore Vidal - "The republic is over."
BBC News: US Author Gore Vidal Dies Aged 86
The Guardian: Gore Vidal, US writer and contrarian, dies aged 86
AntiWar.com: Gore Vidal - the Last Jeffersonian
HuffingtonPost: The Legacy of Gore Vidal
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)
From the televised debate between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the 1968 Democratic National Convention (Chicago, August 26-29, 1968). h/t
Bill Kauffman, a Reason staffer in the 1980s, describes and quotes liberally from his longtime correspondence with the late Gore Vidal. The tone of Vidal's letters, Kauffman writes, "was often light self-mockery, unless the subject was, say, Arthur Schlesinger Jr." My favorite quote is Vidal's kinder-than-expected (though still mocking) assessment of Newt Gingrich: "he's the blueprint for the 1st (post-Lincoln) dictator -- New Age, spacey, Fun."