The Undoing of America

Gore Vidal on war for oil, politics-free elections, and the late, great U.S. Constitution.

Clinton just gave up. Also, to his credit, or rather, to explain him, the Republican Party realized that this was the most attractive politician since Franklin Roosevelt, and that he had a great, great hold over people. They also realized that if he got going, we really would have National Health--we would actually become a civilized country, which we are nowhere near. I mean, we're in the Stone Age again. He was working toward it, and they saw he had to be destroyed. Later they got a cock-sucking interlude to impeach him. If I were he, I would have called out the Army and sent Congress home.

 

CP: Really.

Vidal: Yes, really. They went beyond anything in the laws of impeachment. They have to do with the exercise of your powers as president, abuses of power as president. He wasn't abusing any powers. He was caught telling a little lie about sex, which you're not supposed to ask him about anyway, and he shouldn't have answered. So they use that: oh, perjury! Oh, it's terrible, a president who lies! Oh, God--how can we live any longer in Sodom and Gomorrah? You can play on the dumb-dumbs morning, noon, and night with stuff like that.

 

CP: Clearly Bush does represent something radical and new, and there's been an understandable tendency on the part of people who don't like where the country is going to focus their outrage exclusively on Bush and the Republicans. But don't the media and the Democrats come in for a great deal of blame for creating the political vacuum in which he rose?

Vidal: Well, the media is on the other side. The media belongs to the big money, and the big money, their candidates, their party, is the Republican Party as now constituted. So everybody is behaving typically [in media]. What isn't typical is a Democratic Party that has also sold out. There are just as many lobbyists and propagandists there as on the other side. They're never going to regain anything until they remember that they're supposed to represent the people at large, and not the very rich.

But they need the very rich in order to be able to run for office, to buy television time. I'd say if you really want to date the crash of the American system, the American republic, it was in the early '50s, when television suddenly emerged as the central fact of American life. That which was not televised did not exist. And any preacher, because religion is tax-free--I would tax all the religions, by the way--any evangelical who wants to get up there and say, send me millions of dollars and I will cure you of your dandruff, he gets to spend the money any way he likes, and there's no tax on it. So he can have political action groups, which he's not supposed to have but does have. So you have all that religious money, and then you have the enormous cost of campaigning, which means every politician who wants to buy TV time has got to sell his ass to somebody. And corporate America is ready to buy.

 

CP: Likewise, there's a great tendency among his detractors to call Bush stupid. You've called him "dumb," albeit not as dumb as his dad. But I'm recalling what you wrote about Ronald Reagan years ago in your review of the Ronnie Leamer book about him: that no one who's stupid aces every career test he faces. The same is clearly not true of George W. Bush, who had failed in a lot of things before he entered politics. But he hasn't failed in politics. Do you think Bush possesses a kind of intelligence akin to Reagan's in that regard, or is that giving him too much credit? How do you think his mind works?

Vidal: I should think very oddly. He's dyslexic, which means--it's a problem of incoherence. I have some dyslexia in my family, and they can be reasonably intelligent about most things, but they have problems with words, the structure of language. Not really getting it. There's an inability to study anything. Sometimes they also have an attention deficiency and so on.

I would say that he is undisturbed by these things. His is a mind totally lacking in culture of any kind. I'm not talking about highbrow culture, just knowledge of the American past, and our institutions. He's got rid of due process of law, which is what the United States is based upon. Once you can send somebody off and put them in the brig of a ship in Charleston Harbor and hold them as long as you like uncharged, you have destroyed the United States and its Constitution. He has done those things.

 

CP: How did so many Americans come to embrace and even celebrate these bullying, anti-democratic displays of authoritarian, censorial governance? There's a palpable sense of mean- spiritedness about a good deal of public sentiment, it seems.

Vidal: I wouldn't call it the public. There are groups that rather like it. And these are the same groups that don't like black people, gay people, Jews, or this or that. You always have that disaffected minority that you can play to. And it helps you in states with small populations. If you get eight of those states, you don't get much of a popular vote, but you can get the Electoral College--a device that our founders made to make sure we never had a democratic government. In other words, I don't blame the public. He's not popular. I've just been reading a report on Conyers's trip to Ohio with his subcommittee's experts. Ohio was stolen. The Republican Congress will never have a hearing on it. But I think attempts are being made to publish the details of what was done there, and elsewhere too in America.

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