People of my generation are likely to have the most vivid memories of the two as Buckley espoused early conservative philosophy while Vidal was becoming the “literary” spokesman for newly-emergent left-liberal philosophy. Vidal and Buckley met in public forums frequently during the turbulent 60s, often on television. The fireworks were a wonder to behold.
Vidal was one of the few public figures who could so rile Buckley that he would lose his cool. The most famous encounter was when the two were TV “color commentators” at the 1968 Democratic convention. As if that convention wasn’t chaotic enough, Vidal and Buckley got into a shouting match. Vidal went off on a tangent, proclaiming the Vietnam War a capitalist conspiracy and calling Buckley a “pro crypto-Nazi.”
Not to be outdone, Buckley called Vidal a faggot, and threatened to sock him if he ever called him a Nazi again. Remember folks, these were the days of live television. The New York Times also printed the full exchange uncensored the next day, expressing a certain amount of shock at the uncivilized behavior. In its obituary on Vidal this past Wednesday, political-correctness replaced the actual reporting of the original event. It “f-worded” Buckley’s original outburst but was perfectly happy to leave the proto crypto-Nazi words in the obit.
Apparently, The New York Times finds calling someone a Nazi acceptable, but even when reporting on an event that occurred in 1968, it’s still too timid and too politically-correct to use the actual word spoken by Buckley. That, despite the fact it was a [then] commonly-used pejorative for a homosexual. Moreover, it’s not as if Vidal was particularly sensitive about having it known that he was actively “pansexual.”
Vidal wrote many interesting if wrong-headed essays during his lifetime. But he is best known for his far less intelligent novels and political screeds. His books tended to be extremely lightweight, either alternative history (Julian ((The Apostate)), Burr, and Lincoln) or paeans of praise to the sorrows and glories of gay sex (The City and the Pillar and the far better-known Myra Breckenridge, later made into a bizarre movie with movie critic Rex Reed playing Myron Breckenridge and Raquel Welch playing the sexually-reassigned Myra). He also wrote the screenplays for the Broadway productions-turned-movies Visit to a Small Planet and The Best Man.
In Vidal’s mind, there were very few “intelligent and good” people in the world. He was at the top of his own list, along with family, and a few close friends. He spent most of his adult life damning capitalism. As he grew older and crotchetier, he even showed his disdain for traditional liberalism, veering off into full anti-American pro-everybody-else polemics. As one critic put it: “For Vidal, America was a ‘national security state’ run by power-mad oligarchs whose perfidious designs, obvious to him, escaped the notice of the moronic, mouth-breathing multitudes.”
Perhaps from senile dementia or some other physical/mental disease, Vidal went from liberal-leftist curmudgeon to frothing-at-the-mouth loon in his later years. 9-11 seemed to be the event that pushed him over the edge. He was an avid 9-11 Truther, and a year after the event compiled a series of moonbat essays entitled Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. It included just about every crazy left-wing conspiracy theory imaginable and included his “newfound kinship to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh” (who was long dead by the time he compiled the essays). He had also started to exhibit strains of rabid antisemitism.
I can’t say I’ll miss the old bastard, but he did add spice to our lives. I sort of dream of one last earthly confrontation between the younger versions of Buckley and Vidal, no holds barred and political-correctness tossed to the wind. On live TV. Alas, we’ll never get to see that.
I have attached a link to the 1968 live convention shouting-match for those who have never seen it. I hope it works. With Blogger’s all-new and improved edit screens, we can’t tell now if a link works until the article actually publishes, and by then it’s too late. Go to Buckley and Vidal Name-Calling Festival