Many labels characterize
him: distinguished author, essayist, playwright, historian, acerbic
sociopolitical/cultural critic, freethinker, intellectual, and humanist.
In 2009, the American Humanist Association (AHA) named him honorary
On July 31, Gore Vidal died from complications of pneumonia at his Hollywood
Hills, Los Angeles home.
He was 86. He'll be missed. Los Angeles Times writer Elaine Woo called
him a "gadfly on the national conscience" and "literary juggernaut."
He was that and much more.
New York Times writer Charles McGrath said he was "an Augustan figure
who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably
right. Few American writers have been more versatile or gotten more
mileage from their talent."
Random House editor Jason Epstein called him "an American version of
As an essayist, New York Time Book Review writer RWB Lewis said he was
"so good that we cannot do without him. He (was) a treasure of state."
London Guardian writer Richard Lea called him "one of the towering figures
of American cultural and political life for more than six decades."
AHA said he was "a masterful humanist voice." He "added an enthusiastic,
progressive and dynamic voice" to AHA's humanist movement.
AHA president David Niose said:
"The progressive and humanist values Gore Vidal repeatedly espoused
moved the culture in a positive direction."
"He spent his life pointing out the places in society that needed the
most attention without worrying who might be embarrassed or upset by
Humanist magazine editor Jennifer Bardi added:
"He’s been called an iconoclast, a provocateur, and a misanthrope. And
of course Gore occasionally said things that gave humanists pause. But
he was forever dedicated to the cause of enlightenment and exposed injustice
and hypocrisy at every turn."
On August 1, Bardi headlined "Goodbye, Mr. Honorary President," saying:
"It’s too hard to list all the appropriate adjectives and accolades
that could proceed Gore Vidal’s name. Gore Vidal died tonight and the
enlightened world mourns. But what a life he lived!"
He spent decades criticizing the religious right, US imperialism, perpetual
wars, political extremism in the name of national security, America's
military/industrial complex, and other political, social and economic
He succeeded Kurt Vonnegut as honorary AHA president. He accepted at
the time, saying he would be "most honored to succeed my old friend
as honorary president of the Association."
"Although he himself is hardly easy to replace, I will do my best to
fill the great gap."
His official web site listed his accomplishments. They include 24 novels,
five plays, many screenplays, over 200 essays, his memoir Palimpsest,
his National Book Award winning "United States (Essays 1952 - 92),"
and numerous other political books. They include:
"Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated"
"Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta"
"The Decline and Fall of the American Empire"
"Reflections Upon a Sinking Ship"
"Rocking the Boat"
"The Last Empire: Essays 1992 - 2000"
In 2003, PBS featured Vidal in its American Masters series. His career
spanned six decades, it said. He reflected "uncanny unity, a tone of
easy familiarity with the world of politics and letters, an urbane wit,
and supreme self-confidence as a writer" and sociopolitical critic.
Born in 1925, his web site called his maternal roots "thoroughly political."
As a boy, he lived with his grandfather, Senator TP Gore. His father,
Eugene Vidal, served as FDR's Bureau of Air Commerce director.
His mother, Nina Gore Vidal, divorced when Vidal was 10. She married
Hugh Auchincloss. He divorced her and married Jackie Kennedy's mother.
It established a connection between Vidal and the Kennedy clan. It lasted
through JFK's presidency.
In 1943, he enlisted in the Army at age 17. At age 19, he became a warrant
officer JG and first mate of the army ship FS 35. On night watch in
port, he wrote his first novel, Williwaw.
Colombian novelist/journalist/Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Gabriel
Garcia Marquez praised Vidal's "magnificent series of historical novels
or novelized histories." They cover American life from the 18th to the
New York Times literary critic Harold Bloom called him "a masterly American
historical novelist, now wholly matured, who has found his truest subject,
which is our national political history during precisely those years
when our political and military histories were as one, one thing and
one thing only: the unwavering will of Abraham Lincoln to keep the states
He added he "demonstrates that his narrative achievement is vastly underestimated
by American academic criticism, an injustice has has repaid amply in
his essayist attacks upon the academy...."
Vidal's interest in politics wasn't limited to novels, essays, other
writing, and commentaries. In 1960, he ran for Congress as a liberal
Democrat in New York's Republican 29th district.
Publicly he supported recognizing Red China, cutting the Pentagon's
budget, and spending more on education. He lost but won more votes in
his district than JFK. He headed the 1960 Democrat ticket.
In 1982, he placed second in California's Democrat senatorial primary.
He lost to current governor Jerry Brown.
Reflecting on Watergate, he called America "a nation of ongoing hustlers
from the prisons and disaster areas of old Europe."
"I do not think that the America System in its present state of decadence
is worth preserving."
"The initial success of the United States was largely accidental. A
rich empty continent was....exploited by rapacious Europeans who made
slaves of Africans and corpses of Indians in the process."
In his 1973 New Statesman essay titled "Political Melodramas," he said:
"In 1959 when I wrote ("The Best Man")....the character of the wicked
candidate in the play on Richard Nixon, I thought it would be amusing
if liberal politicians were to smear unjustly that uxorious man as a
He was condemned for suggesting a "man could rise to any height in American
politics if" so labeled. Ronald Reagan was one of the actors he auditioned
for the lead role.
At the time, his film career was over. Vidal rejected him. He thought
he couldn't play a credible president. He was right. In office, he faked
it for eight years.
Obama's worse but hides it better.
At age 81, he visited Cuba. He headed a delegation of US intellectuals,
historians and politicians. He suggested Bush could end up like Nixon.
"We hope he will end up like Nixon, resigning the presidency," he said.
Comparing the two men, he added:
"When a building begins to fall to pieces, it is very difficult to stop
"Everyone who listens to (Bush) knows he is a liar. It is frightening
to have to constantly listen to a man repeating and repeating I am a"
"Of all the human vices, the worst is to lie."
"When the people do not understand what the emperor is saying, what
the government is saying, there is no communication" or trust.
He accused Bush of stealing the 2000 election and "high crimes against
the Constitution of the United States."
"It gives me pleasure to be in a place full of hope," he told a University
of Havana audience. In America, "people do not have the basic understanding
of what they have lost. There has been a coup and the republic has died."
In September 2009, he was asked how Obama was doing. He was unsparing,
"Dreadfully. I was hopeful. He was the most intelligent person we’ve
had in that position for a long time. But he’s inexperienced. He has
a total inability to understand military matters."
"He’s acting as if Afghanistan is the magic talisman: Solve that and
you solve terrorism....we’ve failed in every other aspect of our effort
of conquering the Middle East or whatever you want to call it."
On healthcare reform, he added:
"He f..ked it up. I don’t know how because the country wanted it. We’ll
never see it happen."
On US politics, he said:
"There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party....and
it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat."
"Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their
laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier,
a bit more corrupt - until recently....and more willing than the Republicans
to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists
get out of hand."
"But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties."
He called democracy a system "where numerous elections are held at great
cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates" no different
from each other.
"By the time a man gets to be presidential material, he's been bought
ten times over."
On America's Middle East wars, he said "I don't see us winning. We have
made enemies of one billion Muslims."
He called himself "a born-again atheist. "Once people get hung up on
theology, they've lost sanity forever," he said. "More people have been
killed in the name of Jesus Christ than any other name in the history
of the world."
He called monotheism "the greatest disaster ever to befall the human
He said most people misunderstand the First Amendment's "free exercise
of religion" clause. "Yes, everyone has a right to worship any god he
chooses," but he does not have the right to impose his beliefs on others
who do not happen to share" his views.
"This separation was absolute in our original republic." It's been misinterpreted
and distorted. Extremists "got the phrase In God We Trust onto the currency,
in direct violation of the First Amendment."
In his essay titled "Shredding the Bill of Rights," he wrote:
"It has always been a mark of American freedom that unlike countries
under constant Napoleonic surveillance, we are not obliged to carry
identification to show to curious officials and pushy police."
"But now, due to Terrorism, every one of us is stopped at airports and
obliged to show an ID which must include a mug shot (something, as Allah
knows, no terrorist would ever dare fake)."
He said what too few others dared. He followed in the tradition of Henry
James, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain, among others. He was one of America's
most astute chroniclers.
Friends said he combined an old-fashioned sense of honor and stubborn
will to live as he pleased.
He said George Bush had advance knowledge of 9/11. Roosevelt knew about
Japan's planned Pearl Harbor attack.
Both men took full advantage. Timothy McVeigh was no more killer than
Dwight Eisenhower, and America one day will be subservient to China.
Characteristically he framed it as "The Yellow Man's Burden."
He was mainly self-educated. Classrooms bored him. He skipped college.
He acquired wisdom on his own. He admired Montaigne, Italo Calvino,
Henry James and Edith Wharton.
He called his conservative rival, William Buckley, a "cryptofascist."
He described The New York Times as the "Typhoid Mary of American journalism."
He labeled Ronald Reagan "The Acting President." He called his wife
Nancy a social climber "born with a silver ladder in her hand."
He openly criticized Israel's treatment of Palestinians. He once called
pro-Israeli ideologue/Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz and his journalist
wife Midge Dector "Israeli Fifth Columnists."
At the end, he was wheelchair bound. His mind and wit stayed sharp.
He called style "knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not
giving a damn."
In 2009, he said America is "rotting away at a funereal pace. We'll
have a military dictatorship pretty soon, on the basis that nobody else
can hold everything together."
Reflecting on his accomplishments, he said "I just played the game harder."
He hoped to be remembered as "the person who wrote the best sentences
of his time." He thought of himself as a modern-day Voltaire.
He's survived by his half-sister Nina Straight and half-brother Tommy
Auchincloss. He'll be sorely missed.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized
Banking, Government Collusion and Class War"
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge
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