Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Politics of a Litterateur.

With the campaign slogan "You'll get more with Gore", Gore Vidal ran for Congress in 1960 in a traditionally Republican district of New York. The planks in the platform including recognition of Mao's China, federal aid for education and progressive taxes. He received more votes than any Democrat in five decades, but still lost. Though Gore Vidal has strong links to the Democratic Party through his family as well as his own affiliation in the early 1970s he chaired the People's Party alongside prominent socialists like Benjamin Spock. The Party campaigned for withdrawal from Vietnam, legalisation of cannabis, a higher minimum wage and the introduction of a maximum wage. Ultimately Vidal opted to support McGovern against Nixon, to avoid splitting the anti-war vote and hopefully end the Vietnam war. It would be the last chance for New Deal liberalism to save itself. He ran for the Senate in 1982 and campaigned to tax Church income, nationalisation of natural resources and the replacement of the current system with a Parliamentary democracy.

In 1988 Gore Vidal presented five proposals to improve the American Republic. The first of which was to limit elections to 8 weeks and secondly to ban any candidate or party from buying time on television, radio and newspapers. In Vidal's America the media ought to provide free time and space for the candidates to be interviewed and debate with one another. No more, no less. The growing decay of political language and the system at large was a great worry of Gore's in his later years. The costs of advertising must be eliminated as a necessary step to the removal of money from the political arena. Thirdly, social security should be factored out of fiscal policy in order to expose the bloated military expenditure to the American people. This is all a part of Vidal's isolationist convictions. He goes further to recommend American withdrawal from NATO and all foreign adventures, as well as an end to military aid to foreign countries (e.g. Israel). The line is populist as the cash can be put to better use at home, for infrastructure and public education Vidal stresses.

The fourth proposal was to legalise the use and sale of all drugs because Prohibition only made the Mafia rich while alcoholism sky-rocketed in the 1920s. Addiction cannot be eliminated through criminalisation. This fits into his own commitment to civil liberties and rights pitched since the 1960s when Vidal first moved to the Democratic Left. He later corresponded with Timothy McVeigh and found that he understood the libertarian reasoning for a rebellion against the government. After all the Clinton regime had the FBI incinerate 80 people at Waco with the broad approval of the liberal Left. Vidal remained a scourge of civil authoritarianism when the Bushites stole the election and launched the country into war. The last proposal was to end the Cold War and initiate the beginning of economic integration between America and Russia, justified by self-preservation in a world increasingly centred around China and Japan. It would seem Vidal was internationalist on economics and isolationist on foreign policy.

The propositions are reformist, even conservative, in tone as the recommendations of are about the preservation of the body politic. The ruling-class and prevailing politics had become a drag on the Republic in his mind. The national security state would inevitably threaten the foundations of the United States. Its rapacious growth would eventually devour every chunk of the mountain of revenues from the American tax-payer. It was in this same presentation that Vidal delved into the details of the 1986 US Budget. He breaks it down for us: out of $794 billion in revenue a total of $294 billion goes to social security while $286 billion goes to defence, $12 billion on foreign arms to client states and $8 billion on energy (e.g. nuclear weapons); $27 billion on benefits for war vets and $142 billion on interest payments for loans used to prop up the national security state. Other federal spending came to $177 billion, partly the size of the deficit. Out of the $500 billion left over after social security around $475 billion is spent on the national security state.
Out of all the Founding Fathers it is Aaron Burr who is most admired by Gore Vidal, not Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson or even Tom Paine. For Vidal it is the man who was never President but served as Vice President under Jefferson who is most important. He notes that Burr introduced a degree of professionalism to American politics. Later, Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel before shooting him - a standard maintained by Vice Presidents until Dick Cheney mistook a lawyer for a quail. It's clear that Vidal saw himself as a man of the Jeffersonian revolutionary tradition. He remained concerned that the US was desecrating its republican ideals. The way Vidal portrayed Jefferson in Burr was particularly controversial back in 1973 as it included an account of Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings. The historians of the time argued that a gentleman would have never had sex with a slave and since Thomas Jefferson was the consummate gentleman he would've never had an affair with Sally Hemings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a pleasant surprise to find a blog that wants to discuss Gore Vidal ( and a .DK blog no less! Denmark has been my refuge from The United States of Amnesia for the past 40 years!)
Anyone interested in Vidals thoughts about US history can benefit from reading his 2 essay collections "United States Essays 1952-1992 and The Last Empire - Essays 1992 - 2000. I have great respect for his clear sightedness, wit and ability to not give a shit about what poeple thing about his person.