Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Buckley and Vidal: Refreshing Honesty

...the men were arguing about freedom of speech in regards to American protesters displaying a Viet Cong flag when Vidal told Buckley to "shut up a minute" and, in response to Buckley's reference to "pro-Nazi" protesters, went on to say "As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro-crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself." The visibly livid Buckley replied, "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered." -- Wikipedia entry on Gore Vidal

Who were the men and what was the moment? The men were William F. Buckly, Conservative commentator, and Gore Vidal, Liberal Voice covering the Democratic National Convention August 28, 1968. The year had been rough. The Summer of Love in '67 had devolved into the Winter, Spring and Summer of the nation's discontent in '68. In fact, following the assassinations of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, the nation seemed to be coming apart at the seams.

America's presence in Viet Nam had become such a liability that President Johnson resigned earlier in the year. Protestors were on the streets of the conventions host city, Chicago, and that town's police force were responding to them with excessive force. Buckley and Vidal were supposed to make sense of it all, but their emotions reflected the nation's. That night, they almost came to blows before a national audience.

Forty years did not soften Vidal's feelings toward Buckley. The Wikipedia entry on Vidal reads, "After Buckley's death on February 27, 2008, Vidal summed up his impressions of his rival with the following obituary on March 20, 2008: 'RIP WFB—in hell.' In a June 15, 2008, interview with the New York Times, Vidal was asked by Deborah Solomon, 'How did you feel when you heard that Buckley died this year?' Vidal responded: 'I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.'"

I condemn neither Buckley's earthy reaction to Vidal's provocation or Vidal's loathing. Both were refreshingly honest and consistent. Why be anything else?

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