Wednesday, October 07, 2009

gore vidal - united states of fury

The Independent | Gore Vidal is not only grieving for his own dead circle and his fading life, but for his country. At 83, he has lived through one third of the lifespan of the United States. If anyone incarnates the American century that has ended, it is him. He was America's greatest essayist, one of its best-selling novelists and the wit at every party. He holidayed with the Kennedys, cruised for men with Tennessee Williams, was urged to run for Congress by Eleanor Roosevelt, co-wrote some of the most iconic Hollywood films, damned US foreign policy from within, sued Truman Capote, got fellated by Jack Kerouac, watched his cousin Al Gore get elected President and still lose the White House, and – finally, bizarrely – befriended and championed the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh.

Yet now, he says, it is clear the American experiment has been "a failure". It was all for nothing. Soon the country will be ranked "somewhere between Brazil and Argentina, where it belongs." The Empire will collapse militarily in Afghanistan; the nation will collapse internally when Obama is broken "by the madhouse" and the Chinese call in the country's debts. A ruined United States will then be "the Yellow Man's Burden", and "they'll have us running the coolie cars, or whatever it is they have in the way of transport".

A Scotch is fetched for him as he is wheeled into the corner of the bar. "I was like everyone else when Obama was elected – optimistic. Everything we had been saying about racial integration was vindicated," he says, "but he's incompetent. He will be defeated for re-election. It's a pity because he's the first intellectual president we've had in many years, but he can't hack it. He's not up to it. He's overwhelmed. And who wouldn't be? The United States is a madhouse. The country should be put away – and we're being told to go away. Nothing makes any sense." The President "wants to be liked by everybody, and he thought all he had to do was talk reason. But remember – the Republican Party is not a political party. It's a mindset, like Hitler Youth. It's full of hatred. You're not going to get them aboard. Don't even try. The only way to handle them is to terrify them. He's too delicate for that."

When he compares Obama to his old friend Jack Kennedy, he shakes his head. "He's twice the intellectual that Jack was, but Jack knew the great world. Remember he spent a long time in the navy, losing ships. This kid [Obama] has never heard a gun fired in anger. He's absolutely bowled over by generals, who tell him lies and he believes them. He hasn't done anything. If you were faced with great problems in chemistry – to find the perfect gas, to gas a population – you won't know for a long time whether it works. You have to go by what people tell you. He's like that. He's not ready for prime time and he's getting a lot of prime time on his plate at once."

Is there any hope? "Every sign I see is doom. But then people say" – he adopts a whiny, nasal voice – "'Oh Mr Vidal, you're so negative, can't you say something nice about America? It's a wonderful country, everybody wants to live here.' Oh yes? When was the last time you saw a Norwegian with a green card who wanted to come here because of the health service? I'll pay you if you can find one."