Apr 03 2008
Gore Vidal was born on October 3, 1925. He is a prominent social critic, novelist, playwright, and essayist, and an outspoken critic of the American political establishment. John Keates once praised him as “[the twentieth] century’s finest essayist.” He spent many years living abroad, mostly in Italy and has now moved back to Southern California. Yesterday, over a hundred students, faculty, and community members gathered at Monarch Hall at the Los Angeles Valley College Campus at an event organized by Democracy Matters, Calpirg, and Campus Progress, featuring Gore Vidal. Uprising host, Sonali Kolhatkar was invited by the student groups to interview Mr. Vidal on stage about this year’s presidential election.
Sonali: Mr. Vidal, it’s an honor to share the stage with you in advance of what is going to be an historic election. This election has had the longest primary season in history, drawing out the Democratic race longer than anyone imagined. For the first time in US history, there will be either a black candidate or a woman candidate running as a major contender. This election will mark the end of 8 years under arguably the worst president in history. Many around the country are energized to see a different face in the White House. Young people are becoming involved in electoral politics in inspiring numbers, as this very event shows. Finally, the era of Bush Republicanism is coming to an end, and even most Republicans are heaving a sigh of relief. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. We are still stuck with the same two party structure, independent leaning candidates have once more been shut out of debates, and those who raise the most money are most likely to win the races. To top it off, we are living on the face of a planet that’s heating up, we are mired in two devastating wars whose death tolls will haunt us for decades, and we are facing a an economic crisis that is looking increasing like the Great Depression of the 1930s.
It is indeed a perfect time it is for us to hear from a person like Mr. Gore Vidal.
Special Thanks to Mansoor Sabbagh of Global Voices for Justice, for recording this event.
Gore Vidal: Who was alive then. What is it, sixty years ago to determine? I was in Birmingham General Hospital, which you wisely changed into a high school. But it was a hospital for those of us who had had misadventures in World War 2, and soon thereafter, it was validated, really, not by our broken bodies, but by Marlon Brando in The Men. If you’ve ever seen that movie, you’ll see how Birmingham General Hospital looked back then, and now it does not since it is now a high school. So, I guess fond memories bring me back.
Something funny has happened. Well, so many funny things happen to our political life, but listening to Senator McCain try and tell us why he should be president? I mean that is beyond belief. [In a McCain voice] “Well, I was a descendant of three admirals.” And, I didn’t know admirals gave birth, you know. Apparently they found three that did, you know, and here he is. Kind of puny looking, too. Admirals were running out of gas, as it were, by the time he said he wanted to join the party. He did admit to giving toga parties, which I’ve absolutely forgotten about. Even I was too old for that. But he was in his element. And, with a straight face, he says I think I have sort of the dignity and the character to be the first magistrate of the United States. Well, my god. Abraham Lincoln never said anything on those orders, you know. No, he didn’t. Everybody’s so conceited now. And it couldn’t be his good press because even the Republicans don’t like him. And, I guess he’s maybe going to be there for the Evangelicals, which is nice for them because they haven’t been having too good a time lately. And they can bring back burning crosses and auto-da-fes. Might be fun when he’s in charge. But, with a straight face, he’s recommending himself for president as a war hero. In my mind, prisoners of war, if they ever came back, were court-marshalled. But he comes back. And, I remember sitting on the beach at Hyannisport with John F. Kennedy, who had just been elected president. It’s 1960. And I said, well, it’s sort of all coming true – and we were talking about his father’s ambitions. And, he said [in a John F. Kennedy voice], “yes, it’s the most extraordinary thing – I came back expecting to be court-marshalled for having lost that ship and here I am, president.” I said, your dad knows how to give his boy a treat. He didn’t mind the president part but he was startled that anybody would buy him as a war hero. But, the nice thing about this country is that anybody can be anything he says he is. We are a nation of, you know, really slightly insane liars. I mean, everybody’s lying about everything. They’ve got the wrong name, they’ve got the wrong profession, they’ve got the wrong face, whatever it is. It’s quite extraordinary. United States of Metamorphosis? I usually say “amnesia” but I think I’ve stumbled on that word. Anyway, here we are on the verge. I’m getting used to the long election. Never before have we seen so much of candidates, unless you are William Jennings Bryan, free to follow him around through the dusty towns of the South. So, you could see and hear a lot of Bryan, but it was never the attention that television pays to them. And then, when the ladies on CNN, when they forget their talking points, suddenly they have strange surrealist bursts in their head. One of them said, you know, we seem to be coming to the end of this lo-o-o-ong primary and everybody nodded, yes, we’re coming to the end of this lo-o-o-ng primary. And she said, but we forget there are other problems like Social Security which is almost over. Dear God! The Right Wing can talk these people into anything! I mean just about everybody in the U.S. they think Social Security is about to die. They’ll kill it if they can, that is quite true, and privatize it! But that’s it. It’s a moderately profitable trust fund. Simple as that. And you go down and income comes in and it’s doing pretty well now. But if you tell everybody everyday, oh, it’s going to crack up soon – there won’t be any money. And I’ve talked to real conservatives. That’s when conservatives were not, you know, bishops, but they were main street bankers who believed in fiscal responsibility, and they said, oh, the entitlements are killing us! Oh, I said, we’re known as the most generous country on earth, you know, we do everything for the people. I even had my leg chopped off for them just because. Didn’t work. And, that was part of the contract. But, I was just amazed at the stuff they believe. And my favorite lie – they all know it by heart – is, if we don’t fight ‘em over there, we’re going to fight ‘em here! How are they going to get here? And why do they want to come here? I think they want to stay home, you know, and burn Christians or whatever it is they do do. But looking for enemies? Now this is not what the United States was created for. We were meant to be a friendly place, a refuge to the huddled masses of the world. We were meant to inspire. It’s a little sad now. You had a question to ask?
Sonali: Oh, I’m happy to sit here and be part of the audience. But, I’m wondering Mr. Vidal, is this a moment in U.S. history that the left in this country does have a chance to veer the nation in one direction just because of the disaffection against Bush?
Gore Vidal: I have never found the left in the United States in 82 years. I’m told by right-wingers that it exists and it’s an all-powerful – it’s in charge of the media! Look, look, sex in the streets, gay marriage, I mean, all these horrible things! They’re in control! And, I bet the Senator from Arizona probably believes all that because he’s a very simple fella. But, indeed, there is no left here. There is a kind of vast unthinking right which believes in money. And I’m sometimes in favor of them, you know. We all have our weak moments. But we have never had proper political parties nor have we shown any aptitude for having one. The last good thing that ever happened to us was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And he, what little civilization that we have developed, you can thank Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt, who were hated by the conservatives of their day. I was thinking coming in on the chair, I was brought up in Washington when he was President and my father was his Director of Air Commerce – so much in the news today with FAA. And, he was a great storyteller, as you know. He had been paralyzed since he was in his late twenties and he was always in a wheelchair. And, he was not very mechanical. He couldn’t operate it any more than I can and they have a lot of mysterious locks on them. So, he was gliding in from the Oval Office, he had just been elected President. And the Secret Service in those days were hardly to be seen. And this was at the beginning of the War. We were a quiet non-pompous country then. You could walk into the White House as an ordinary citizen unless you looked like you had a machine gun. Nobody would stop you. It was considered our house, all of us. And we were all protectors of the President no matter how ghastly he was. We were there. And we were as one about our President, Secret Service and so on. So, he had a misadventure at the very beginning. He locked his wheelchair in the Oval Office and he was headed for, the secretary was right next door and then next to her was the Cabinet room. He was trying to get in there and he couldn’t move. There was nobody around to help him. Nobody was there. No Secret Service was there. So, he just shouted for somebody and one of the stenographers came over and he said, would you go next door to the Navy Dept. and send a sailor over here. He said, they’re fairly mechanical. And, tell him to push my chair for me. She said, all right, Mr. President. So, this kid comes over, about 17, terrified. Here he is with the emperor of the west – Roosevelt’s head was this big. I always thought of Gog and Magog, you know, or I am Osimandias, King of Kings. He was formidable looking. So, this kid comes over to try and unlock the chair and move him in to the Cabinet Room. And, the kid is so hysterical by then. He can’t stop moving, so the President is being pushed at a great rate – 30, 40 miles an hour, and then 50, 60 miles an hour. The President is barely hanging on to the chair as he goes from room to room and the boy doesn’t know whom to call for help – he can’t see the Secret Service. Anyway, finally the President is rescued. And the President said, [in an FDR voice] you know, at first I thought it might be assassination. That’s something we, the presidents, have to think about a great deal of the time. And then, he says, I see this nice sailor lad here – I’m an old Navy man and I felt I was in pretty safe hands, he said, looking very suspiciously at the kid on the back of the chair. And he said, oh yes, you see, I first thought (because you know they just killed I think it was the mayor of Chicago just before he was elected President who is sitting next to him out there) and he thought my time has come, but it had not come. And the kid had finally stopped the wheelchair in an open closet, at great speed steers the President inside the closet. It’s full of carbon paper. That was one of the things we ate in those days. And all sorts of amusing other tidbits were in there. And the President felt fairly safe that he was going to be in the closet there. Then they came out, the Secret Service finally got its act together and they pulled him out of the closet and he said, [in an FDR voice] you know, I thought that I might be the first president ever to be assassinated right after his inauguration. Now, I believe that I was almost the first president ever to be filed!
Sonali: Well, speaking of FDR, do you see either of the democratic presidential candidates, given that we’re at a very, very serious economic crisis right now that some are predicting could approach the Great Depression, do you see any of them offering any New Deal-like policies, at least, in their rhetoric?
Gore Vidal: They don’t know enough, do they? He was lucky enough, Lord Kaines was at his height living in England then advising the British Treasury and suddenly, Kaines was called by Roosevelt’s advisors – what do we do about this Depression? The banks were all shutting. And, to the consternation of the politicians, Roosevelt was advised by the Kainsians to shut all the banks. Roosevelt, who did not like bankers very much, didn’t seem to mind the notion so that’s how we sort of, the worst phase which came at the very beginning back in ’33 or ’34 and the banks were shut and the panic stopped for awhile. Then the inaugural address and I noticed how different these other presidents are. I remember as though it were yesterday, as I was standing outside on Pennsylvania Avenue with my father who was in the administration: [in an FDR voice] “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Well, by God, that came down like a trumpet Gabriel on the people. And what do they say now? Harry Truman: [in a Truman voice] We have this enemy. It’s Communism, international Communism, they’re forever on the march. We’re about to lose Greece, we’re about to lose Albania, and who knows what will happen to Monte Carlo and whatever it was just babble, babble, babble. And I watched this courageous president who knew a thing or two about the country, sustaining us through a series of disasters rather worse than this. No, I don’t mean George W. Bush – he is worse than this. He is this. It was quite something. Their technique was to terrify us to death! It’s not if they’re going to attack us. It’s when! Oh, how excited these midgets became at the thought, that all of Washington might be blown up next time. I could just see Roosevelt’s ghost ready to come down and dissolve these people. And how we went from hope, how we went from the knowledge of who we were. We were an important nation. And, after World War 2, we had a global empire. I hold that against Roosevelt because it did us no harm at all. Henry James, who curiously enough was rather good on politics, when the subject at the time of the Spanish-American War, the subject of what would happen once we took over the Spanish possessions, he said, “you know, empire civilized the British. Empire will corrupt us even more.” Mr. James was a pretty good social scientist.
Sonali: So, a lot of progressives today are lining up behind Barack Obama. There’s probably a lot of students on this campus who are energized by him and are buying his message of hope. What do you think of Mr. Barack Obama?
Gore Vidal: I don’t know what his message of hope is. I mean, what’s he hoping for? Election? I can quite understand he’s very hopeful, he’s a very attractive politician and maybe what the times require. I’m certainly on the side of somebody of the other race getting the job. These pale white ones have not done terribly well by us. Or I should say red-faced ones. Have you noticed Bush’s face? You know, they say he’s gone back to drinking. Anyway, I have a friend who keeps sending anonymously to the White House a bottle of bourbon once a week to get him really addicted, you know. Now I don’t look to any of our, actually, it’s Hillary that I like the best because she knows how to do it. And never look down on expertise even if it’s crime. She’s just terribly good at it. And I didn’t think that she’d be such a bloody infighter, you know, because, in a way, she’s been brought up to be a maiden and go to the Yale Law School and then suddenly comes Boss Tweed bubbling out of her and those teeth bite. But, I hear Mr. Bloomberg is supposed to step in at the last minute and save us from the angels of our better natures. You know the little fellow, the one from Arizona? What’s his name? McCain. He’s taken to quoting the last two sentences from Lincoln’s first inaugural. And, I just feel that I want to get up and scream heresy and get my bell, book and candle out and send him back where he belongs. It’s always awful when the wrong people quote the right people.
Sonali: So, John McCain is now on this so-called biography tour of his.
Gore Vidal: There’s no story to tell!
Sonali: Well, the media has told his story many times. I mean, every time you read an article about John McCain you learn that he was a prisoner of war for five years.
Gore Vidal: Oh, isn’t that heroic! Even I could be a prisoner of war – just stand still and let them catch you.
Sonali: How do citizens deal with the corporate media, which can make or break an election and has a stranglehold on the way we get our information?
Gore Vidal: You can’t do anything about it. President Lincoln said, if you want a free press, buy one. And he didn’t mean a nickel for the latest Bennett artifice from New York. That’s the New York Herald I’m talking about. No, accept the fact that this is a totally corrupt country in which the media has been bought ten times over and is going to do exactly what it’s told to do. And when this one young woman, quite a nice one at CNN, but she sort of wrote down because she had said everything she was supposed to say to the audience, who are regarded as being rather stupid by the management, and she’d said all those things and then she suddenly had to get in to the terrors that await us if we don’t get the right person in and she started to talk about the collapse of entitlement programs and everything else is all coming to an end. She’d rehearsed it. She learned it. None of it’s true. Yes, everything will end one day but it looks like the dollar is going to end long before Social Security does. And, she was just repeating nonsense. So, you have to say either she’s a trickster herself or she believes it which means, who was who that said nobody ever lost a penny underestimating the judgment of the American people. Oh, and today you heard blasphemy from Senator Admiral. He said that Americans have become cynical about politics. And that great dough-face so mournful. Means that they don’t pay his Admirals salute whenever he comes aboard a ship anymore. Imagine – he’s descended from three Admirals and he thinks that counts? Well, he can give swimming lessons at the Y. And, I worry about that melanoma, you know, I have a lot of skin cancer myself. This is getting far, far too large.
Sonali: You’ve supported Dennis Kucinich in the past. But, how does an independent candidate or even a democrat like Dennis Kucinich, who’s fairly outspoken, get into electoral politics with the stranglehold by corporations?
Gore Vidal: I did my best to help him and there are other people who did help him get time on television and so forth. I did a half-hour interview with him for television and that will be shown, you know, after he’s dead. But he had been through the mill in Cleveland. As soon as he was elected Mayor, the three banks started whatever they have – it isn’t impeachment, but something like it – to try and get him because he refused to sell them a utilities company. The three banks wanted it and it was a monopoly and illegal. It didn’t make any difference. He stopped them from that and he ran again for Mayor and was re-elected and then they made life so difficult for him that he went to Congress where he could make life difficult for the banks, anyway. I mean, I watched Wolf Blitzer keeping him out of the nine great candidates, you know, Dodd, you know, all the people we want to hear from. And, one after the other, Blitzer was just introducing them as though they were Mount Rushmore. And nobody wanted to hear them and there’s Dennis sitting there with many things to say that people did want to hear and the only thing he could get in – Did Shirley McLaine tell you that she’d seen a flying saucer? Well, boy, isn’t that nice for a presidential election? Oh, he got the business really. But that happens. A greater man than he did and that was the heir of Franklin Roosevelt, Henry Aggard Wallace, former Secretary of the Treasury, Vice-President of the United States, enemy of the Cold War, which Harry Truman loved because he didn’t know any geography. He didn’t know where anything was. But he saw, oh, we were very prosperous during the war years because we had Hitler and Communism to fight. Now we’ve got Stalin and Communism to fight. They think it’s as simple as that! Well it isn’t as simple as that and if you have presidents who are that simple you should reject them. Or ask them to go build a library.
Sonali: Let’s talk about the Iraq war, which should be one of the top issues in the election. We all want the troops out. Most people of conscience want them out. But, really the only one who has the power or authority today to really pull the troops is the President. So, how do Americans, ordinary Americans deal with this war?
Gore Vidal: Well, you impeach him and send him to Guantanamo!
Sonali: So, speaking of the war though, what do you think ordinary Americans can and should do? I mean people are getting increasingly hopeless. We’re five years into this war now.
Gore Vidal: Well, they should remove Bush immediately.
Audience: And Cheney.
Gore Vidal: And Cheney. Dennis Kucinich has already introduced into the House of Representatives Articles of Impeachment of the Vice-President. My advice to him was don’t go after the President – [in a whiney voice] how can you do that? The President of the United States, beloved by everybody all over the earth? You can’t do that! – How we became monarchists, I don’t know! The whole country is just [whiney voice] oh, no, no, you can’t do that to the President! Well, because we had one or two great presidents in a row, by accident, and now we’re really back to, as usual, totally incompetent. But the press will defend it as they have all along. They’ve never questioned him on anything he’s done! Occasionally, his Secretary of Agriculture is not quite up to snuff. But, after all, the President picked him and the President’s got to know. I mean if the President doesn’t know, who’s going to know? We’ve become slavish. My favorite emperor was Tiberius and Tiberius, when he became emperor after Augustus died, the Senate sent him, kind of round robin, from all the Senators, SPQR, and the Senate sent him a document which agreed to any proposition that he might send down from Palatine Hill to the Senate without any time of pondering or anything, automatically because the emperor has spoken. He sent it back to them with a nasty little message and he said, well, suppose the emperor has gone mad? Or suppose he’s dead and you don’t know it? That often happened then. And, is this a wise policy that anything that comes from the Senate to the Palatine Hill is going to be accepted? And they said yes. They sent it back to him a third time and Tiberius had a courier take it back to the Senate and he said, how eager you are to be slaves!
Sonali: Mr. Vidal, do you think that young people in the United States, on college campuses like this, are putting too much faith in the electoral system? Are they putting enough emphasis on grassroots activism?
Gore Vidal: Well, I don’t think they know how to do it. If they knew how, I think they would like grassroots activism. That’s one of the ways out of a mess like this. But, you see, they don’t know what it’s like to live in a democratic society. This isn’t one. It ceased to be one – I went in the Army in 1943, I was 18 and I served for four or five years. We were prisoners and conned by the authorities who talked my generation. They wanted all the 18-year-olds but at that time it was against the law to take us in. They sold us a bill of goods called the Army Specialized Training Program and there’s also a training program for the Navy. So, you said which one you wanted to go to and all you had to have is to have graduated from a high school. And that would be it and you’d be in the special service which would teach you languages and whatever your bent was. They betrayed that immediately. As I’ve always said having spent my life studying American history, we almost always act in bad faith toward everyone. But we act in bad faith toward our own people. Look at the victims of Katrina. Look at the people coming back from the Middle Eastern wars. This is horrible stuff. The Roosevelt generation may not have been perfect but at least we were sent to Birmingham Hospital where we were repaired and pretty well looked after afterwards. I think with that sort of mindset what would a young person today know anything about the country anyway? They don’t know a thing. Mention Roosevelt to them and they want to lie down and die, you know. Am I going to be examined on this, you know?
Sonali: Why do you think that is? Is it our educational system? Is it that people feel helpless?
Gore Vidal: Well it’s one of the worst public educational systems in the world, yes, of course. I spent most of my life in Europe since I got out of the Army and Italy has a better educational system for the people at large than we have or even rather well-to-do people. The first thing you notice too because I go around talking a lot to kids over the last 40 or 50 years. One line when I sort of was with, in my real political days, with parents/teachers groups and so on, I’d ask the parents, I’d say explain to me a sort of miracle – I get around quite a lot. I have never met a dull 6-year-old and I’ve never met an interesting 16-year-old. What do you do to them? You have 10 years to wreck them and you and the schools do it. Do you get together at, you know, meetings? What’s the dullest – let’s teach them Latin. Oh, let’s teach them Julius Caesar – oh, they’ll like that! Regular subjunctives galore. And there wasn’t one who didn’t agree with me about that. And they regard it as a phenomenon, too. I just said how does this happen? Normally kids are extremely curious about the world they’re living in and they like to ask questions. That was why one of the funniest titles of a book I think I’ve ever seen was Ring Lardner writing his memoirs. Life with my Father was the title. His father was a very funny man. Shut up, he explained.
Sonali: So what do you think people should do? Given the state of the country, you know, given the stranglehold that corporations have, the state of the media, the state of electoral politics, what do you think young people and the rest of us can do and certainly it’s not enough to just get excited every four years for the election?
Gore Vidal: Well, I suppose you could have a revolution if you wanted one.
Sonali: And what would such a revolution look like?
Gore Vidal: France. You would cut the King’s head off and the Queen’s head off and the rest of the royal family. Revolutions in our culture don’t turn out terribly well. The French Revolution, which started out pretty well, gave us Bonaparte and the conquest of Europe and many, many dead people. Now we have the same kind of interests that Bonaparte had but we have no general, we have no leader. We have a dictatorship without a dictator. Chilling.
Sonali: The topic of today’s conversation is focused on the money in elections. And, you know, Barack Obama has raised a lot of money. We’re going to be getting a presentation from a student later about campaign financing. But, you know, there are a lot of efforts, I mean, certainly you’re quite cynical as well you should be but there are a lot of efforts around the country…
Gore Vidal: No, don’t ever confuse cynicism and realism. They’re two quite different words.
Sonali: So, you’re not cynical?
Gore Vidal: Well. Who is not? But, at the same time realism is a state that you must first achieve before you can make any changes. You have to know where you’re living and why the people who rule you are ruling you. And why it is that anything you are told about American history in school is going to be untrue if you happen to know anything about history.
Sonali: There are a lot of people though who are working to make change but they can’t get into the media. They can’t get the corporate media to cover their activism or their organizing and amplify their voice. I mean, I think certainly that was a little bit different even a few decades ago. No?
Gore Vidal: No. It’s always been the same. The center stage was always occupied by the showoffs and the showoffs always wanted to be president or something like that and make a mess. And, by and large, they made big messes.
Sonali: So, do you have any hope for this November?
Gore Vidal: Well, December will follow it. Santa Claus will be kind to us.
Sonali: In your years seeing presidents, you talked about FDR being one of the best U.S. Presidents, but what does this time remind you of, if anything? I mean, is this a completely unprecedented time in history that we’re living in the United States with Bush and everything that he’s brought to this country?
Gore Vidal: Well, I’ve never seen stupidity so… There’s nothing they can do, there’s nothing that they know. I’ve been listening to the Senator from Arizona and everything he says is just so skewed. He doesn’t know anything. And I can tell you Annapolis is not the best place to go for an education. I mean, there’s nothing there. There’s less in his head than there would be in a Roman taxi driver who would know more history than he does. But they’re proud of knowing nothing. They don’t want to be bookish. They don’t want to be like that. They want to be live wires. No. I’ll give you one observation from the front, as it were. I think my generation was absolutely decimated by World War II. Most of the class that I graduated with from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, much of my class was killed in the Ardennes. And not one of them had reached 19. They killed too many of us and this is why the country is so lousy today. We’re the ones who should be 80 years old as I am. This should be our time to do whatever it is the old can do. But, the killing was too great. I watch these things – I’m in tears when I watch the kids now being killed. It always seems like the best-looking boys and girls are getting it as though somebody’s going around deliberately and shooting them so that they can’t govern one day. Well, you can’t keep killing your best generations and expect anything much to happen after that.
Sonali: I want to talk a little bit in the last few minutes about right-wing Christianity in the United States. Is there a precedent for that that you’ve seen and do you think that given what Bush has done these past eight years that right-wing Christianity is going to enjoy the power to influence the White House in the next four years as it has?
Gore Vidal: Well, never forget we’re religious bigots here. I mean we’ll kill all the right-wing Christians before they kill us. No, I think they should watch out because when Protestants get angry it’s a very nasty sight.
Sonali: Any last words of wisdom for our crowd gathered here, for the listeners that will be listening here on KPFK and for young Americans?
Gore Vidal: Get to know Caligula better.
Audience question: I’ve read that a Constitutional Convention might be a powerful tool for us as citizens of the United States. Could you explain a little bit about the process of a Constitutional Convention and if it would benefit us?
Gore Vidal: Oh, yes it would. I’ve always been for it, guided in this by Thomas Jefferson, who thought we should have a Constitutional Convention every 30 years. And he said, you cannot expect a man to wear a boy’s jacket. And that was his reason for it. I’ve spent a lot of time looking into this. And there was a nice old boy in the Senate and he got so far, he was a Southern Senator, and he was a great Constitutionalist and he just said, what would happen if 23 or whatever it is of the states were to ask for a Constitutional Convention and they’re usually asked for in order to balance the budget or to allow ladies to marry each other or something like that. It’s always for something that is not in the mainstream. This was very interesting what he came up with: he said first of all, once it is called properly by the states and by the various legislatures, then everything is up for grabs. You can eliminate the presidency if you want to. You can eliminate the Supreme Court. Until they’ve finished doing it to themselves. And the powers that accrue, remember, the Declaration of Independence gives the whole game away – our only legitimacy, as a nation, as a republic, is we the people in congress assembled, that’s it! Ultimate power is only ours! It is no one else’s! And nothing can be done about that! Call them into congress, assemble them in congress again and you can see the mountains move. Obviously, I’m all for it.
Audience question: Yes, Mr. Vidal, earlier you mentioned that you believe that a revolution may be necessary to fix the corruptness of the American government and my question to you is that do you still believe that a non-violent revolution is possible or are we slipping away from that availability in the future and maybe having to move towards a more armed revolution?
Gore Vidal: Well, revolutions tend to get armed as they go along. The offending class never dissolves themselves willingly. But I’ve never said that I wanted one. I was answering a question. How can we undo what has been done to us and the fact that dirty money reigns. Well, I think praying for clean money is like praying for goodness. Don’t hold your breath. Countries evolve, you know, the systems that they want. We’re a rather boring mercantile nation whose genius was always hustling and whose genius was also assembly lines, thinking of novelties that the world might like, need. We got the whole world anyway before the emperors took over and I don’t think we need any more direction there. Constitutional Convention would shake things out. I mean I hate to see what’s been done to the Supreme Court. I mean it’s just ancient, you know, club bore, hacks, all gathered together to protect people of property. Not the most virtuous thing to want to do.
Audience question: Mr. Vidal, earlier you spoke a little bit to the apathy and perhaps to the ignorance which has fostered in the youth of America and, being part of that, I can validate it. I mean, just growing up and being 20 in this particular time I have felt something of a disconnect with history and despite wanting to be involved, it’s, I don’t know, it’s difficult I think to move beyond the right and left simplistic argument. I guess what I’m asking is if you have any suggestions you might make about how to move beyond this intellectual and psychological stagnance which we seem to be caught in?
Gore Vidal: Well, if you want to help the system, become a poll watcher and catch all the people who are trying to correct the ballot machinery. Very useful thing to do and you’ll have the support of the community. I wouldn’t go amongst the bankers but otherwise you’ll be highly regarded. I’d say that’s a citizenly duty. Another one is to run for office yourself. Just because you’re doing that does not mean that you become equally corrupt as those who hold office. Some people get really touched by it. I don’t know how they do it but they do.
Audience question: Mr. Vidal, when you ran for the Senate from New York, you had the backing or the help of some of the big bosses, the biggest one of all, Eleanor Roosevelt. What would she say? Do you ever talk to her like Hillary Clinton did? What would she say and how would she say it about the election this year?
Gore Vidal: [in an Eleanor Roosevelt voice] Well, dear, I don’t understand and why aren’t you running?
Audience question: Were we better off under the big bosses making the decisions in the smoke-filled rooms?
Gore Vidal: Under whom?
Audience: Tamany Hall and Walter Ruether and John L. Lewis?
Gore Vidal: Well, I was very fond of Walter Ruether. And he was first-rate. Mrs. Roosevelt adored him. And I remember Frank Roosevelt Jr., Walter Ruether and I were sent by Kennedy to talk to Mrs. Roosevelt, who was going to come out for Adlai Stevenson at the 1960 convention and she had a position paper prepared for us which became next to It’s My Day which was a column she wrote. And she said, [in an Eleanor Roosevelt voice] well, I like Adlai. And Frank Roosevelt Jr. said, well, we don’t, ma. And, Frank said, you know, look at the way he’s stammering around about is he going to run or not. And here you are pushing him in the newspapers and so forth. And she said, well, people are what they are, Franklin. And he said, I know, and we don’t like him for what he is. Indecisive. I now think of course he was the best candidate at the time but he was not ready to go the route. He was just not tough enough where Jack was. Not to mention the whole Kennedy operation. I liked the bosses. And I was appointed by Carmine de Sapio, capo di cappi, to be a delegate out here. The convention was held here which nominated Kennedy and I was nominated in order that I would cast a vote for him. That’s democracy in action.
Special Thanks to Julie Svendsen for transcribing this interview
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