INTERVIEW WITH GORE VIDAL
Gore Vidal is universally recognized as a national treasure. Born in West Point, New York, and raised in Washington, D.C., he began his literary career at the age of 19, producing a string of acclaimed novels, notably The City and the Pillar, Myra Breckenridge and Lincoln. Vidal became known for his frank views on sex and America’s moral hypocrisy. Reflecting his own reputation, he has said sex is a continuum, with everyone prone to varying degrees of preference. In addition, Vidal has also relied on his wit and intellect to skewer the political establishment while exposing the nature of power and ambition. Now 82, America’s premier man of letters has railed against the crimes of the Bush Administration and the neocon takeover of the U.S. in such recent best-sellers as Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta and Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia. The venerable wordsmith’s latest book is The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal.
HUSTLER: Over the years you’ve delivered your own annual State of the Union address to counter the President’s. What is the state of the Union in 2008?
GORE VIDAL: Not good. I’ve never seen it so messed up as it is now. The haves and have-nots are divided in a way that they’ve never been before in my lifetime, and I can remember the 1920s and the ’30s. There were rich people then, but there was never such a division. And I noticed that even the dumb-dumb press has picked up on class. I’ve never seen that word used in an American election. Even they’ve got it.
Are you still a committed Democrat?
Yes. I really believe, quite firmly—and with each passing day more strongly—that the Republican Party must be removed from the United States of America. It is not a political party in any usual sense; it is a mind-set of like-minded people who don’t like blacks, don’t like Jews, don’t like this, don’t like that. But they only express such among the racquet crowd or when they’re playing squash. I’ve always known that since I belonged to that class, but I’ve never seen them as totally unsound as they are now. I listen to [John] McCain whenever he’s on. [He is] as ridiculous a figure as has ever been proposed for President; he knows nothing. He’s sort of George W. Bush writ large, perhaps even smaller. Every time that goon starts to talk about radical Islam, it’s as if he’s talking about Hitler. Everything he says about the Islamo-terrorists is pure nonsense. I believe that the Republican Party in America is everything that McCain says the Muslims are. It’s a killer party constantly at war.
So the Republican Party doesn’t believe in democracy?
They never did. They believe in money, order, keeping the lower orders down.
It seems that no matter how many truths are presented, the Republicans will maintain the same old lie and get away with it.
Well, this is the era of [Karl] Rove. He may be gone from the White House, but they’re still playing by his book. You don’t have to teach Americans how to lie; they seem to be born knowing it, but lying has now become a major art form. It used to be creative writing. And you see, the thing about this country and the way publicity is manipulated, there is no lie that you can tell that you will ever be called on. It’s really a very unpleasant country. And I think that’s more and more obvious to more and more people.
For a lot of people, politicians like George W. Bush and John McCain embody the tough-guy/cowboy approach that is part of American mythology.
But [the people] have no knowledge of history. What have they got to measure anything against? [There was] the constant lie about Saddam Hussein being part of al Qaeda and [that] he bombed New York! That is a tragic story because he was a great frontman for us in that part of the world.
Who was responsible for 9/11?
American foreign policy, I suppose. They ticked off Osama bin Laden. I tend to believe his many comments on the subject, trying to get credit for it and so on. He’s the usual pig when it comes to PR. And I quite believe him [when he says], “Get your troops out of the Holy Land.” Americans can’t conceive of “holy land.” I mean for all the dumb religion Americans wallow in, they’re not religious at all. It was fascinating watching His Holiness here. I watched the whole thing on television. He’s a dicey person, but he’s Pope. He’s authority; Americans were just coming in their pants. Here was the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the heir of Peter, and oh boy, he’s a good actor too, and he learned a lot from his predecessor. You saw a people dying for authority, just dying to be told what to do. Except they don’t know what to do. Lose weight, I guess, is the only thing that’s really in their heads.
Are Americans aware they’re being lied to?
They pick up a lot. You should run for office sometime. I spent a couple of years on my first campaign for the House in Upstate New York and then a year and a half on the race for the Senate here [in California]. I got half a million votes saying exactly whatever popped into my mind. It worked perfectly well. As long as you don’t deliberately bore them, I think Americans will pay attention. They have their likes and dislikes, and it’s hard to generalize the population. Mr. Rove knew how to do it, but he worked very narrowly. He was thinking about elections; he was not thinking about what the people want. “Was this a good move or a bad move for America?” None of that, [but rather]: “Will my candidate win and by how many votes?” Rove had a kind of genius for our darkest natures. He knew how to play them.
Why do so many Americans fall for that kind of manipulation?
Have you seen the educational system? Have you seen the media? [There’s] no education that any proper country would recognize as being education; they don’t know any history. Why do you think I’ve been teaching them history for 40 or 50 years now? This was not my dream. This should have been done by the schools, but the schools don’t do it.
And the media doesn’t do it. Worse, it mistakes fiction for nonfiction.
It seems like the corporate media has the same agenda as the corporations that control our politicians.
What’s the surprise there? What’s a corporation to do? Ever since the 14th Amendment, they’re allowed to be entities like human beings. They can sue in the courts as though they were individuals who have been outraged, libeled. And, of course, they’re mostly hoods.
You used to appear frequently on TV. Why haven’t we seen Gore Vidal lately?
They know that I’m bad news ’cause I say awfully shocking things.
Are you concerned about the Democratic Party moving even farther to the right because of its strong corporate ties?
Well, how could they not be? This is the United States. You’re asking corporations to stay out of politics? That’s how they make their living.
The United States has been hollowed out intentionally and is now broke. None of this is an accident, is it? That’s a little too conspiratorial for me. I’ve known low-class families like George W. Bush’s. They’re just from the gutter with aspirations for the stars. But the whole story about him and his family is told in that weeping jag that his father had on television when Jeb [Bush] was retiring from politics. [Jeb] was supposed to be the President. And the other one just skipped out of line and rushed at it and took it. And apparently [George W.] really is offended that his parents don’t like him as much as they like Jeb. They’re wistful about Jeb, what he might have done. I have no great respect for the old man. They are not bright bulbs from the Christmas tree of the American dream. They’re the ones that sputter and make that awful sound when they’re about to go out. But obviously the old man knows he sent a real lemon to the White House, and there was nothing to be done about it because the old boy was playing the dirtiest politics on Earth. I mean, he picked up Rove out of the dust. And a lot of undesirable neocons. Junior was their creature, and his father certainly must have known it but didn’t like it. His father is, I gather, an old-fashioned WASP with a dislike for the Jews and did not like being bossed around by Tel Aviv or wherever the commands come from. Nor did Dubya at the beginning. He bit back once or twice and decided it wasn’t worth the battle.
So you’re acknowledging that Israel has a lot of influence on our foreign policy?
Nobody in their right mind would say no. But there are a lot of people who are not in their right mind because it doesn’t suit their career moves to say so.
And why we’re in Iraq and probably soon in Iran is heavily influenced by Israeli policy as well? You said this; I didn’t say it. But I assume something like that, of course.
And in conjunction with oil interests of the United States?
Yes, and the political aspirations of a bunch of third-raters. Look at Rome—largely the new rich took over. That’s the kind of government we’ve got. But [Bush] is an easy target. The fact that he made it there is interesting. And what is interesting are the Roves, the neocons. This is a little cabal which is not acting in the interest of the American people because the neocons don’t know who Americans are, and if they knew, they wouldn’t like them. They have great contempt for Americans.
Do you think Americans see through that?
Well, how can you acknowledge anything as traumatic as what has happened to us? I mean you have to realize there’s been a revolution. You didn’t know what was going on, and you didn’t know who was maneuvering it. There was no opposition to it, at least none that anybody seems to have heard.
What is the role of the military-industrial complex?
Well, it governs everything. That’s why I go out and raise money and speak for various Congressional candidates, because the House of Representatives [which can vote against military funding] is the only thing we have close to democracy. It’s not very close, but it’s close. And with people like [Dennis] Kucinich and so on, there’s a real chance that good actions can come out of it. So I wear myself out, lose my voice, hoping there’ll be a change of heart out there in the great prairie.
It seems as though there are two types of politicians. John F. Kennedy had compassion and could see himself projected into the future and be concerned about how history would judge him. Then we have politicians like George W. Bush who can’t project into the future at all.
He’s too busy working to see there is no future.
Is it fair to say that a person like Kennedy cares?
That’s totally wrong. You want to believe it, to feel better. [But] the others are not necessarily assholes. They are convinced they are doing what is right for the country. I come from a [famous political] family, the Gore family.We [have been] consistently an antiwar family. [My grandfather] opposed World War I. He was one of the heads of the America First movement, as was I. These were old-fashioned patriots.
But Franklin D. Roosevelt did change things.
Well, he’s been much sentimentalized and romanticized. He was like nobody that you’ve ever read about. He was megalomaniacal. He did great damage to the republic, and I think rather intended to. In 1960 I was running for Congress; Jack [John F. Kennedy] was running for President. Mrs. Roosevelt didn’t like him, and I was doing my best to bring her around. I remember one afternoon she said, “Do you realize that there are people today who have never heard of the Depression? How do they not know?” That’s one of the great facts of the 20th century. The whole economy had crashed, and capitalism was about to be destroyed. Roosevelt saved it for the ungrateful assholes.
Are we on the verge of another Depression?
Yeah, I think we are. But the solution is so simple: You stop the wars! Trillions are now going nowhere.
What about corporate control in the 1920s and the Depression that resulted. Is that what we’re seeing today?
It’s an ongoing atrophy of the democratic principle.
History shows that once you have an economic collapse, fascism is next.
Oh, it’s been here quite some time.
So how do we start the revolution?
Take the White House!
If you were President, what would you focus on?
The restoration of the Constitution. It’s going to take two generations to get over what Bush did, particularly to the federal branch. He’s got every lunatic they could find. They find the worst person possible for these jobs. And where does this come from? It’s a weird thing: somebody trying to overthrow a government from the office of President.
What kind of President do we need?
The President who wants to say, “I am going to restore the Constitution of the United States of America. I will restore the Bill of Rights.” The only way you can advance in the United States is to go backwards. That’s the only thing people understand. We had a good beginning and a bad present, so refer to the beginning and make it the present.
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