Media luminaries bid a fond farewell to Gore Vidal. Andrew Ferguson calls them on it.
The most puzzling thing about the career of Gore Vidal, who went toes-up last week at 86, was the reverence in which he was held by people who might have known better. . . .
For decades Vidal had said that Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and let the slaughter come anyway, and when 9/11 gave him the chance to make the same slander against another president, he went even further and speculated that George Bush had colluded with his vice president to encourage the terrorist attacks. At his death a critic at the Washington Post summarized the Vidalian view with an uncommon mildness: "He took an acerbic view of American leadership."
The man must have felt bulletproof. With implausible romances like Lincoln and Burr he filled more readers' heads with more historical crapola than anyone since Parson Weems. ("So powerful as to compel awe," said Harold Bloom of Vidal's make-believe histories.)
He thought the Bilderbergers and members of the Bohemian Grove controlled world finance. ("He is a treasure of state," said R.W.B. Lewis.) He befriended Timothy McVeigh and spoke warmly of him. ("Vidal did not lightly suffer fools," said the obit writer in the New York Times.) He dished out anti-Semitism in a dozen different venues with imperturbable serenity. ("Both by temperament and by birth he was an aristocrat," said the Times.) He called William F. Buckley a crypto-Nazi. ("Vidal was known for his . . . scathing wit," said Diane Sawyer on ABC.) He wanted to try Henry Kissinger for war crimes and suggested that John McCain had invented tales of his torture at the hands of the Vietnamese. ("A savvy analyst and glorious gadfly on the national conscience," said the L.A. Times.) . . .
I was interested in Diane Sawyer's brief obituary on her ABC evening news show. It centered on the notorious confrontation (on ABC TV) between Vidal and Buckley in 1968, in which Buckley countered Vidal's accusation of Nazism with the vigorous insight that Vidal was "queer"—not high on the list of Buckley's scathing witticisms either. In recalling the event, Sawyer identified Vidal as the "celebrity novelist," while taking special care to tag Buckley as the "arch-conservative."
Why arch? The two tags make for a curious imbalance. For 50 years Buckley's views were safely on the rightward edge of the American popular consensus; Vidal's were shared by a tiny minority—cranks and ignoramuses in Hollywood, Manhattan, Northwest Washington, D.C., various college towns, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Yet it is Buckley who earns the ideological intensifier "arch."