August 31, 2006


Gore Vidal
By David Barsamian

Gore Vidal is a gold mine of quips and zingers. And his vast knowledge
of literature and history---particularly American---makes for an
impressive figure. His razor-sharp tongue lacerates the powerful. He
does it with aplomb, saying, "Style is knowing who you are, what you
want to say, and not giving a damn." He has a wry sense of noblesse
oblige: "There is no human problem which could not be solved if people
would simply do as I advise."

Now eighty, he lives in the Hollywood hills in a modest mansion with
immodest artwork. I felt I was entering a museum of Renaissance art. A
stern painting of the Emperor Constantine was looking down upon us as we
sat in his majestic living room. A Buddha statue from Thailand stood
nearby. But all was not somber. He had a Bush doll with a 9/11 bill
sticking out of it on a table behind us.

His aristocratic pedigree is evident not just in his artistic
sophistication but also in his locution. In a war of words, few can
contend with Vidal.

"I'm a lover of the old republic and I deeply resent the empire our
Presidents put in its place," he declares.

Vidal moved gingerly and was using a cane. A recent knee operation left
him less mobile. He says, "The mind is still agile but the knees have
grown weak." We sat in upholstered chairs. On a nearby table I saw the
galleys of his second memoir, Point to Point Navigation. It will be out
this fall. His earlier one, Palimpsest, came out in 1995.

Prolific does not even begin to describe Vidal's literary output. He's
the author of scores of novels, plays, screenplays, essays. In 1993, he
won the National Book Award for his collection of essays, United States.
His recent books (he calls them "pamphlets")---Perpetual War for
Perpetual Peace, Dreaming War, and Imperial America---have sold in huge
numbers. When I asked him what was the point of his work, he said, "I am
chronicling America." The prose, whether polemical or fictional, is elegant.

Distantly related to Jackie Kennedy, he does not romanticize JFK. "He
was one of the most charming men I've ever known," says Vidal. "He was
also one of the very worst Presidents."

He's been a Democratic candidate for the House from New York and for the
Senate from California. Today, he ridicules the Democrats for supineness.

He sees a certain continuity in U.S. foreign policy over the last fifty
years. "The management, then and now, truly believes the United States
is the master of the Earth and anyone who defies us will be napalmed or
blockaded or covertly overthrown," he says. "We are beyond law, which is
not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense."

I talked with him on a hot afternoon in mid-April.

*Q:* In 2002, long before Bush's current travails, you wrote, "Mark my
words, he will leave office the most unpopular President in history."
How did you know that then?

*Gore Vidal:* I know these people. I don't say that as though I know
them personally. I know the types. I was brought up in Washington. When
you are brought up in a zoo, you know what's going on in the monkey
house. You see a couple of monkeys loose and one is President and one is
Vice President, you know it's trouble. Monkeys make trouble.

*Q:* Bush's ratings have been at personal lows. Cheney has had an 18
percent approval rating.

*Vidal:* Well, he deserves it.

*Q:* Yet the wars go on. It's almost as if the people don't matter.

*Vidal:* The people don't matter to this gang. They pay no attention.
They think in totalitarian terms. They've got the troops. They've got
the army. They've got Congress. They've got the judiciary. Why should
they worry? Let the chattering classes chatter. Bush is a thug. I think
there is something really wrong with him.

*Q:* What do you think of the conspiracy theories about September 11?

*Vidal:* I'm willing to believe practically any mischief on the part of
the Bush people. No, I don't think they did it, as some conspiracy
people think. Why? Because it was too intelligently done. This is beyond
the competence of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld. They couldn't pull off a
caper like 9/11. They are too clumsy.

*Q:* Today the United States is fighting two wars, one in Afghanistan
and one in Iraq, and is now threatening to launch a third one on Iran.
What is it going to take to stop the Bush onslaught?

*Vidal:* Economic collapse. We are too deeply in debt. We can't service
the debt, or so my financial friends tell me, that's paying the interest
on the Treasury bonds, particularly to the foreign countries that have
been financing us. I think the Chinese will say the hell with you and
pull their money out of the United States. That's the end of our wars.

*Q:* You're a veteran of World War II, the so-called good war. Would you
recommend to a young person a career in the armed forces in the United

*Vidal:* No, but I would suggest Canada or New Zealand as a possible
place to go until we are rid of our warmongers. We've never had a
government like this. The United States has done wicked things in the
past to other countries but never on such a scale and never in such an
existentialist way. It's as though we are evil. We strike first. We'll
destroy you. This is an eternal war against terrorism. It's like a war
against dandruff. There's no such thing as a war against terrorism. It's
idiotic. These are slogans. These are lies. It's advertising, which is
the only art form we ever invented and developed.

But our media has collapsed. They've questioned no one. One of the
reasons Bush and Cheney are so daring is that they know there's nobody
to stop them. Nobody is going to write a story that says this is not a
war, only Congress can declare war. And you can only have a war with
another country. You can't have a war with bad temper or a war against
paranoids. Nothing makes any sense, and the people are getting very
confused. The people are not stupid, but they are totally misinformed.

*Q:* You've called the country "The United States of Amnesia." Is this
something in our genes?

*Vidal:* No, it's something in our rulers. They don't want us to know
anything. When you've got a press like we have, you no longer have an
informed citizenry.

I was involved somewhat with Congressman Con-yers on what happened in
Ohio during the last Presidential election.

Conyers is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and he went
up there with a bunch of researchers. They went from district to
district, and they found out how the election was stolen. He wrote a
report that was published by a small press in Chicago. To help out, I
said I'd write a preface for him on how the election was stolen. We were
thinking that might help. But The New York Times and The Washington Post
were not going to review the book about how we had a second Presidential
election stolen. They weren't going to admit it.

A huge number of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was
responsible for 9/11. You have a people that don't know anything about
the rest of the world, and you have leaders who lie to them, lie to
them, and lie to them.

It's so stupid, everything that they say. And the media take on it is
just as stupid as theirs, sometimes worse. They at least have motives.
They are making money out of the republic or what's left of it. It's the
stupidity that will really drive me away from this country.

*Q:* When were the media better?

*Vidal:* They've never been much good. They belong to the people who own
them. But they were better, the level was higher. There used to be
foreign correspondents in other countries. There's nobody abroad now.
The New York Times gave up being anything except a kind of shadow of The
Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post is the court circular. What has
the emperor done today? And who will be the under-assistant of the
secretary of agriculture? As though these things mattered.

*Q:* What do you think of the public advertising of one's faith among
political leaders? They make a show of going to church and participating
in ceremonies.

*Vidal:* Personally I find it sickening, and very much against what our
Founders had in mind. Remember that the country was mostly founded by
Brits, and England's always gotten credit for having invented hypocrisy.
So we are reflecting our British heritage when we hypocritically talk
about how religious we are.

*Q:* Is the U.S. more like Sparta than Athens?

*Vidal:* We're not so good as either. We certainly are not warlike.
Spartans were based upon military service. We don't want that. We want
to make money, which I always thought was one of the most admirable
things about Americans. We didn't want to go out and conquer other
countries. We wanted to corner wheat in the stock market or something
sensible like that. So we are very unbelligerent. We were dragged
screaming into World War I. Well, we were slightly enthusiastic about
that, but we were very innocent farm people in those days. In World War
II, we fought to stay out of that war. And every liberal figure in the
United States from Norman Thomas on was anti-war. They were
isolationists in the old populist tradition. So we never had a chance of
being Sparta.

*Q:* Talk about the role of the opposition party, the Democrats.

*Vidal:* It isn't an opposition party. I have been saying for the last
thousand years that the United States has only one party---the property
party. It's the party of big corporations, the party of money. It has
two right wings; one is Democrat and the other is Republican.

*Q:* What can people do to energize democracy?

*Vidal:* The tactic would be to go after smaller offices, state by
state, school board, sheriff, state legislatures. You can turn them
around and that doesn't take much of anything. Take back everything at
the grassroots, starting with state legislatures. That's what Madison always
I'd like to see a revival of state legislatures, in which I am a true

*Q:* Do you see any developments on the horizon that might suggest an

*Vidal:* Newton's Third Law. I hope that law is still working. American
laws don't work, but at least the laws of physics might work. And the
Third Law is: There is no action without reaction. There should be a
great deal of reaction to the total incompetence of this Administration.
It's going to take two or three generations to recover what we had as of
twenty years ago.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

He may be quirky but he has amazing insight and objectivity. Thanks for posting this.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Recover in two or three generations?!

I think he's being a tad optimistic there.

BTW, I love his hair care products, makes my wigs look so lustrous and life like ever time!

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You have a lot to learn. All you men have a lot to learn"

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember in the 1996 presidential election all the libs were sporting CLINTON/GORE t-shirts and buttons. Not being such a fan of either one (both too conservative for my tastes!), I devised a new logo that read:

GEORGE (small)
CLINTON (huge)
GORE (huge)
VIDAL (small)

I got a lot of thumbs up for that one...

Big ups for posting the interview, Bunny.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And to think that he used to live in Italy! So close yet so far... Nice interview.
I wonder what America will do after these last saviours will die? Bit sad.

4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're gorgeous, trashy, and you know who Gore Vidal is -- could we love you any more?

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey everyone! i just got my church mommy drunk!!! she's only been drunk twice in her entire life. and this is her second time! hahahaha! this is great! "gotta take yo' momma out all night; gonna show her what it's all about! we'll get her jacked up on some cheap champagne; we'll let the good times all roll out!"

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

did u ever hear him talk about Washington and andrew jackson....said the first line to a play if he ever wrote one would be "Andy, where's my wig!?!"

5:08 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

As opposed to "Andy, where are my wooden teeth?" :-) (Is Gore implying that Andy would have had splinters in his dick? :-))

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

he didn't imply, he said flat out. since George "found" Jackson at the all boy penal colony he was at, they got along like 2 peas in a pod.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Yes, all-boy penal colonies are a lot like boarding schools in Massachusetts. I wonder if any of Georgie's old classmates have any further dirt they're waiting to dish, or if they've all been snuffed before they could spill. :-)

10:03 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even though that old queen has taken it up the pooper one too many times he speaks the truth and I respect him for that!

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