Robert Scheer sits down with Gore Vidal to hear his take on the upcoming presidential campaign, religion and the future of the American empire in this first installment from Truthdig’s series of interviews with the iconic author and historian.
Watch and listen:
Robert Scheer: What’s going to happen now with our politics? How do you look at this crop of Democrats? What do you think is ... ?
Gore Vidal: Oh, chaos.
Scheer: Chaos. Who do you like in this horse race?
Scheer: No one?
Vidal: Well, Cousin Albert [Al Gore] I like.
Scheer: I like Cousin Albert also. ... First of all, what’s with this guy? I mean, why doesn’t he get in fighting trim? ... Why is he holding back ... ?
Vidal: Well, I think, you know, his psyche was probably damaged. ... I don’t know him at all, personally, and always rather avoided him, but ... he’s got the only program that you can sell to the people, and he can be relied upon to keep us out of a war. That’s enough for me. The environment and no war.
Scheer: That’s enough for me also—this could be the boomlet right here, you know? ... Hillary scares you?
Vidal: No, I like her. If she were suddenly president, I wouldn’t mind at all. I worry about her character; I mean, she’s showing Bush-itis. She won’t admit to a fault, won’t admit to anything, as though it were all-important to defend her vote? Come off it, you know. That’s ... dumb. And whatever she is, I never thought she was in any sense stupid.
Scheer: Edwards, you don’t ....
Vidal: I like him. At least he believes there’s a class basis for a political party. Alone, I think, because everybody else thinks it’s just corporate America—that those are the two parties, and that’s where the money comes from. He acts as though it has nothing to do with money.
Scheer: So who else is there—what about Kucinich—is it useful to have him ... ?
Vidal: I like him; he’s a nice kid.
Scheer: Who have I left out? Oh, Obama—my goodness! What about Obama?
Vidal: He’s a mystery.
Scheer: Maybe that’s why I left him out.
Vidal: Well, if we don’t have a clear idea who he is at this moment, when he’s spending a lot of money—because with all that money he’s spending, he could put out a program, and we would at least have some idea. ... It’s too soon for him. He’s not been president-ized yet.
Scheer: Well, I’ve thought from the beginning that he’s going to be an excellent choice for vice president, that anyone who gets the nomination who doesn’t pick him would be an idiot.
Vidal: Yeah, and I think they probably won’t.
Scheer: And I assumed that that’s what he was running for, but then the thing took off. And I’m afraid it’s taking off ... there are some good reasons—he’s a bit better on the war than Hillary, you know, and it would be good to have a nonwhite in the White House.
Vidal: It’s about time, certainly.
Scheer: ... You make a very good point: with all of the momentum he has; with all the money and everything, maybe he’s falling into that—to get more money, to get more momentum, you have to become even more poorly defined. ...
Scheer: O Great One, give us some advice—how do you handle it?
Scheer: What’s it all about?
Vidal: It’s all about nothing. That’s what it is. That’s why people became existential, so they could say it was about something that they had just thought up.
Scheer: You don’t feel any inclination to embrace one of the standard religions?
Vidal: I like them, because, you know, they’re so absurd. And they’re monuments to human vanity. “I can’t just die and be nothing,” says everyone to himself, “it makes no sense.” It also makes no sense that he’s somebody. How do you get to be somebody? He was just a bunch of molecules at one point. Now he thinks he’s something that should last for all eternity. That, to me, is madness—and his reward when he is duly surprised: that there was nothing; that maybe, if there is irony up there with the Sky God, it might well be that the Sky God has enough irony to say, “Well, see, you weren’t anything were you? Go away.”
Scheer: Well, does this fill you with any fear or apprehension?
Vidal: I was quite happy before I was born, so why should I complain about being nothing afterwards?
Scheer: You’re not nothing; you’re leaving behind a great treasure.
Vidal: Yeah, except there won’t be any people to read it.
Scheer: Why is that?
Vidal: Shall we begin with the educational system, and then we move systematically on through all the other reasons against it, including ... Tucker Carlson? On television—I mean, that’s the end of civilization when that goes on.
Scheer: What is your view on what’s going to happen in this country in the next 50 years?
Vidal: We could still be saved by our own incompetence. I think that the coming depression is going to ... see, I’m old enough to remember the ... depression of the ‘20s and ‘30s. That was a moment of greatness for the American people, and indeed for politicians like Roosevelt. I remember Gene McCarthy and I were talking about it once, and he said, “You know, the Depression was the only time when anything worked!” He said, “I’ve got a lawyer now who wants to be a songwriter. I’ve got somebody else who’s supposedly fixing the roof, but he wants to be a painter.” He said, “Nobody does what they should be doing in this society.” This is a guy who’d just run for president, and a very good one, too. Antiwar. And he said, “You know, this is ridiculous. I mean, in those days, you had a carpenter, and he was a real carpenter.” He said, “The post office worked. They weren’t dreaming about being rock stars; they were dreaming about getting the mail out!” And he said, “To watch all the services crumble, and everybody fantasizing about the future, because they’d seen people in the movies who fantasized about the future, and the future came true.” I thought that was wise. And ... I think the fantasies will stop when there’s no longer the leisure, and people will actually get back to work doing whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing, or even what it is they would really like to do. An awful lot of people who want to be painters rather than doing roofs—well, be a painter. Nothing’s difficult anymore; you can get the means for everything rather cheaply. With the Internet and all this kind of interchange all around the world so rapidly, you can make a reputation, I think, rather quickly, and present yourself as a writer, as a poet, as this and that. So, that, I think, the bankruptcy of the United States, which we’re looking at the edges of now, is going to be very useful to [bring] us to our senses.