Wednesday, August 01, 2012

People Power, Now and Then

As Barack Obama begs supporters for TV ad money and Mitt Romney returns from pandering to Catholics in Poland and Jews in Israel, the death of Gore Vidal is a reminder that politics was a literary enterprise as well half a century ago.

In those days, Vidal was labeled “a man of letters” who wrote novels, plays and essays and, in the emerging new medium, argued raucously on the tube with others of his ilk such as Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley and Truman Capote.

In a 1960 play and later movie, “The Best Man,” Vidal signaled the new JFK era by having a former President recall the old days when politicians “had to pour God over everything like ketchup.” Knowing audiences laughed.

In 1968, Vidal was a network commentator paired with his conservative doppelganger, the elegant editor and novelist William F. Buckley. They escalated a dispute on some minor point into calling one another "a pro crypto Nazi" and "a queer." Buckley won the argument by warning Vidal, "Stop calling me a crypto Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddam face..."

The two descendants of patrician families (Vidal was distantly related to Jacqueline Kennedy) pursued their feud on magazine pages, in lawsuits and by running for public office to spread their ideas (unsuccessfully, of course).   

Today, ideas have been replaced by partisan sound bites and SuperPAC attacks funded anonymously by bilious billionaires. Politics is a mindless demolition derby.

Gore Vidal’s departure recalls a time when talented, full-blooded people with names, faces and deeply held convictions had their say and tried to persuade thinking voters to agree with them.    

It may have been messy, but it was human.

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