Correspondence

Gnawing Away at Vidal

We do not live in a golden age for homegrown and corn-fed radical critics. Legal restrictions on political speech remain few, but informal strictures and the passage of time have muted those who remember—and like—the free, landed republic that this country used to be, before World War II and the monolithic Cold War state that it bore. We are an empire today, the antipode of the virtuous agrarian society that our forefathers envisaged.

Woe betide the independent man, unbeholden to university or think tank, who speaks these truths. Whether left or right, blueblood or wetback, dullard or high wit, the foe of empire invites the pillory. He's gonna get creamed.

Enter Gore Vidal.

No public figure in present-day America takes a more brutal thrashing from the Arbiters of Acceptable Opinion than Gore Vidal: novelist, essayist, acid celebrity. Although his work, particularly his remarkable chronicle of American history (Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Washington, D.C.), is wildly popular with the middlebrow audience, Vidal is vilified by the "vital center," that loud and puissant band of Cold War liberals and Pentagon-obsessed conservatives.

These attacks have all the subtlety of the commode flush. For instance:

The New Republic branded a Vidal essay on Israel's US supporters, notably the polemicist Norman Podhoretz, as "brazen racist hate"...

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