Prolific writer, indefatigable contrarian, caustic wit… Gore Vidal was difficult to define, yet never far from the fray. The media are heralding his passing as a true intellectual catastrophe. As seen with the death of any influential figure, contributions are bolstered, transgressions forgotten, and acolytes proclaim their fidelity. What is lost, perhaps for the better, are the true colors of the man and his work.
- Leave history alone- Vidal’s Burr and Lincoln were fictional accounts that catapulted the author to undeserved credibility. Jefferson and Lincoln scholars railed against the simplistic caricatures Vidal crafted, but he was well protected in literary circles. Vidal’s radical views on Jefferson’s character and Lincoln’s sexuality did not exclude him from speaking as an authority in well-known documentaries by Ken Burns.
- Counter Culture icon- Though widely considered Liberal, Vidal felt he was personally conservative. During the National Conventions of 1968, his debates with William F. Buckley were the stuff of legend. New Left academics rallied around Vidal during the feud, but failed to see the intellectually bankrupt content of his attacks on Buckley; “Crypto-Nazi” and “Anti-Semite” represented the extent of Vidal’s rebuttals. Buckley’s death in 2008 prompted Vidal to wish his old rival well, in hell; oh, the wit.
- Controversial to a fault- The desire to remain in the public eye is understandable; the lengths someone like Vidal went to achieve this cannot be respected. Vidal spoke his mind on everything, too much as it turns out. From his tainted view of Lincoln’s sexuality, to his absurd belief that Roosevelt planned the Pearl Harbor attack, there is little value in his historical scholarship. It is nearly impossible to defend his assertion that Timothy McVeigh’s crimes were simply reactions to an erosion of civil liberties. Vidal failed to see the irony in his logic….excusing David Koresh’s crimes against his followers because of their fates- yet admonishing the government for executing McVeigh- be damned with the children in the Murrah Building, eh Gore?
No doubt the world lost a great mind… yesterday when Gore Vidal passed away. Let’s not rush to judgement as we look back on his life; Weigh the good and the bad, the one liners with gaffes, the literary flourishes with the outrageous errors. His life can be celebrated without injudiciously measuring his successes and failures.