The Undoing of America - Gore Vidal on war for oil
The Undoing of America - Gore Vidal on war for oil
Tue Apr 19, 2005 18:41

The Undoing of America
Gore Vidal on war for oil, politics-free elections, and the late,
great U.S. Constitution

by Steve Perry

03/23/05 "City Pages" - - For the past 40 years or so of Gore Vidal's
prolific 59-year literary career, his great project has been the
telling of the American story from the country's inception to the
present day, unencumbered by the court historian's task of making
America's leaders look like good guys at every turn. The saga has
unfolded in two ways: through Vidal's series of seven historical
novels, beginning with Washington DC in 1967 and concluding with The
Golden Age in 2000; and through his ceaseless essay writing and public
appearances across the years. Starting around 1970, Vidal began to
offer up his own annual State of the Union message, in magazines and
on the talk circuit. His words were always well-chosen, provocative,
and contentious: "There is not one human problem that could not be
solved," he told an interviewer in 1972, "if people would simply do as
I advise."

Though it's a dim memory now, Vidal and commentators of a similarly
outspoken bent used to be regulars on television news shows. Vidal's
most famous TV moment came during the 1968 Democratic Convention, when
ABC paired him with William F. Buckley on live television. On the next
to last night of the convention, the dialogue turned to the question
of some student war protesters raising a Vietcong flag. The following
exchange ensued:

Vidal: "As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of proto- or
crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself. Failing that, I'll only say
that we can't have--"

Buckley: "Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll
sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

That was TV in the pre-Information Age for you. These days Vidal, who
put his Italian villa on the market a few months ago and moved
full-time to his home in Los Angeles, speaks mostly through his essay
writing about the foreign and stateside adventures of the Bush
administration. In the past five years he has published one major
nonfiction collection, The Last Empire, and a book about the founding
fathers called Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson. But
mainly he has stayed busy producing what he calls his "political
pamphlets," a series of short essay collections called Perpetual War
for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated (2002), Dreaming War:
Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta (2003), and Imperial America:
Reflections on the United States of Amnesia (2004). Last month at Duke
University, he produced a short run of On the March to the Sea, an
older play about the Civil War that he has rewritten entirely.

I spoke to Vidal, who will turn 80 this October, by phone from his
home in Los Angeles on March 9.

City Pages: I'll start with the broadest of questions: Why are we in
Iraq, and what are our prospects there at this point?

Gore Vidal: Well, let us say that the old American republic is well
and truly dead. The institutions that we thought were eternal proved
not to be. And that goes for the three departments of government, and
it also goes for the Bill of Rights. So we're in uncharted territory.
We're governed by public relations. Very little information gets to
the people, thanks to the corruption and/or ineptitude of the media.
Just look at this bankruptcy thing that went through--everybody in
debt to credit cards, which is apparently 90 percent of the country,
is in deep trouble. So the people are uninformed about what's being
done in their name.

And that's really why we are in Iraq. Iraq is a symptom, not a cause.
It's a symptom of the passion we have for oil, which is a declining
resource in the world. Alternatives can be found, but they will not be
found as long as there's one drop of oil or natural gas to be
extracted from other nations, preferably by force by the current junta
in charge of our affairs. Iraq will end with our defeat.

CP: You've observed many times in your writing that the United States
has elections but has no politics. Could you talk about what you mean
by that, and about how so many people have come to accept a purely
spectatorial relationship to politics, more like fans (or non-fans)
than citizens?

Gore Vidal: Well, you cannot have a political party that is not based
upon a class interest. It has been part of the American propaganda
machine that we have no class system. Yes, there are rich people; some
are richer than others. But there is no class system. We're classless.
You could be president tomorrow. So could Michael Jackson, or this one
or that one. This isn't true. We have a very strong, very rigid class
structure which goes back to the beginning of the country. I will not
go into the details of that, but there it is. Whether it's good or bad
is something else.

We have not had a political party since that, really, of the New Deal
of Franklin Roosevelt, who was a member of the highest class, an
aristocrat who had made common cause with the people, who were in the
midst of depression, not to mention the Dust Bowl, which had taken so
many farms in the '30s. We were a country in deep trouble, and he
represented those in deep trouble. He got together great majorities
and was elected four times to the presidency. And launched us on
empire--somewhat consciously, too. He saw to it that the European
colonial empires would break up, and that we would inherit bits and
pieces, which we have done.

If we don't have class interests officially, then therefore we have no
political parties. What is the Republican Party? Well, it used to be
the party of the small-town businessman, generally in the Middle West,
generally sort of out of the mainstream. Very conservative. It now
represents nothing but the gas and oil business. They own it. And the
people who go to Congress are simply bought. They are lawyers who are
paid to represent Halliburton, big oil, big banking. So the very rich
corporate America has a party for itself, the Republican Party. The
Democrats don't have much of anything but a kind of wistful style.
They just want everyone to be happy, and politically correct at all
times. Do not hurt other people's feelings. They spend so much time on
political correctness that they haven't thought of what to do
politically about anything. Like say "no" to these preemptive wars,
which are against not only the whole world's take on war and peace,
but against United States history.

This is something new under the sun--that a president, just because he
feels like it, can declare war on anybody. And Congress will go along
with him, and the courts will support him. The founding fathers would
be mortified if they saw what had happened to their handiwork, which
wasn't very great to begin with but is now done for. When you have
preemptive wars, and you have ambitious companies like Bechtel who
will build up what, let us say, General Electric has helped to destroy
with its weaponry--these interests are well-represented.

There is no people's party, and you can't even use the word. "Liberal"
has been demonized. A liberal is a commie who's also a pedophile.
Being a communist and a pedophile, he's so busy that he hasn't got
time to win an election and is odious to boot. So there is no
Democratic Party. We hope that something might happen with the
governor of Vermont, and maybe something will or maybe it won't. But
we are totally censored, and the press just follows this. It observes
what those in power want it to observe, and turns the other way when
things get dark. Then, when it's too late sometimes, you get some very
good reporting. But by then, somebody's playing taps.

CP: Has the media played a role in transforming citizens into
spectators of this process?

Vidal: Well, they have been transformed, by design, by corporate
America, aided by the media, which belongs to corporate America. They
are no longer citizens. They are hardly voters. They are consumers,
and they consume those things which are advertised on television. They
are made to sound like happy consumers. Listen to TV advertising: This
one says, "I had this terrible pain, but when I put on Kool-Aid, I
found relief overnight. You must try it too." All we do is hear about
little cures for little pains. Nothing important gets said. There used
to be all those talk shows back in the '50s and '60s, when I was on
television a great deal. People would talk about many important
things, and you had some very good talkers. They're not allowed on
now. Or they're set loose in the Fox Zoo, in which you have a number
of people who pretend to be journalists but are really like animals.
Each one has his own noise--there's the donkey who brays, there's the
pig who squeals. Each one is a different animal in a zoo, making a
characteristic noise. The result is chaos, which is what is intended.
They don't want the people to know anything, and the people don't.

CP: You wrote at the end of a 2002 essay that so-called inalienable
rights, once alienated, are often lost forever. Can you describe
what's changed about America during the Bush years that represent
permanent, or at least long-term, legacies that will survive Bush?

Vidal: Well, the Congress has ceded--which it cannot do--but it has
ceded its power to declare war. That is written in the Constitution.
It's the most important thing in the Constitution, ultimately. And
having ceded that to the Executive Branch, he can declare war whenever
he finds terrorism. Now, terrorism is a wonderful invention because it
doesn't mean anything. It's an abstract noun. You can't have a war
against an abstract noun; it's like having a war against dandruff.
It's meaningless.

But you can terrify people. The art of government now, the art of
control as practiced by the current junta, is: Keep the people
frightened. It's exactly what Adolf Hitler and his gang did. Keep them
frightened: The Russians are coming. The Poles are killing Germans who
live within the borders of Poland. The Czechs are doing the same thing
in the Sudetenland. These are evil people. We must go after them. We
must save our kin.

Keep everybody frightened, tell them lies--and the bigger the lie, the
more they'll believe it. There's nothing the average American now
believes (because he's been told it 10,000 times a day) that is true.
Now how do you undo so much disinformation? Well, you have to have
truth squads at work 24 hours a day every day. And we don't have them.

CP: I'd like to ask you to sketch our political arc from Reagan down
to Bush II. It seemed to me that Reagan took a big step down the road
to Bush when he was so successful in selling the ideology of the
market, the idea that whatever the interests of money and markets
dictated was the proper and even the most patriotic course--which was
hardly a new idea, but one that had never been embraced openly as a
first principle of politics. Is that a fair assessment?

Vidal: He was small-town American Republican, even though he started
life as a Democrat. He believed in the values of Main Street. Sinclair
Lewis's novels are filled with Ronald Reagans, though Babbitt doesn't
get to the White House. But this time Babbitt did. So it was very
congenial for Reagan to play that part, not that he had a very clear
idea of what his lines were all about. Those who were writing the
scenarios certainly knew.

I'd say the downward skid certainly began with Reagan. I came across a
comment recently, someone asking why we had gone into both Grenada and
Panama, two absolutely nothing little countries who were no danger to
us, minding their own business, and we go in and conquer them.
Somebody said, well, we did it because we could. That's the attitude
of our current rulers.

So they will be forever putting--what they do is put us all at risk.
You and I and other civilians are going to be the ones who are killed
when the Moslems get really angry and start suicide-bombing American
cities because of things the Bush/Cheney junta has done to them. We
will be the ones killed. Bush/Cheney will be safe in their bunkers,
but we're going to get it. I would have thought that
self-interest--since Americans are the most easily terrified people on
earth, as recently demonstrated over and over again-- we would be
afraid of what was going to befall us. But I think simultaneously we
have no imagination, and certainly no sense of cause and effect. If we
did have that, we might know that if you keep kicking somebody, he's
going to kick you back. So there we stand, ignoring the first rule of
physics, which is that there is no action without reaction.

CP: Didn't the previous successes of our economy and our empire, post
WWII, condition people to expect that consequences were for other
people in other places?

Vidal: Well, wishful thinking, perhaps. I spent three years in World
War II, and it was a clear victory for our team. But it was nothing to
write Mother about, I'll tell you. Walt Whitman once said, of the
Civil War, that it is a lucky thing the people will never know what
happened in the war. One can think of a lot of things, one can imagine
a lot of things, but...

The sense that there are no consequences--that can happen if you keep
the people diverted. Television changed everything. Some 60 or 80
percent of Americans still think Saddam Hussein was a partner of Osama
bin Laden. They hated each other, and they had nothing to do with each
other. Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. But if you keep repeating
it and repeating it--and Cheney still does; nobody's switched him off,
so he just babbles and babbles like a broken toy--how are they to know
otherwise? Yes, there are good journals here and there, like The
Nation, but they're not easily found. And with our educational system,
I don't think the average person can read with any great ease anything
that requires thought and the ability to exercise cause-and-effect
reasoning: If we do this to them, they will do that to us. We seem to
have lost all track of that rather primitive notion that I think
people all the way back to chimpanzees have known. But we don't.

CP: In your latest book, Imperial America, you refer to Confucius's
admonition to "rectify the language." In that regard I'm wondering
about the Clinton years, and about the success of the Clinton/Morris
strategy of "triangulation," which mainly consisted of talking to the
left and governing to the right. Did that play a role in setting the
stage for a figure like Bush, who throws around words like "democracy"
and "freedom" when they bear no relation to reality?

Vidal: Well, certainly it did. Clinton represented no opposition to
this. He was so busy triangulating that he was enlisting under the
colors of the other team, hoping to pick up some votes. I don't think
he did, but he got himself reelected by not doing the job of an
opposing political party. In other words, the Republican Party as it
now is funded, is the party of corporate America, which is no friend
to the people of America. Now that's a clear division. The people of
America, if you ever run for office, you find out they're very shrewd
about figuring out who's getting what money, and who's on their side.
But you have to organize them. You have to tell them more things than
they get to know from the general media.

Clinton just gave up. Also, to his credit, or rather, to explain him,
the Republican Party realized that this was the most attractive
politician since Franklin Roosevelt, and that he had a great, great
hold over people. They also realized that if he got going, we really
would have National Health--we would actually become a civilized
country, which we are nowhere near. I mean, we're in the Stone Age
again. He was working toward it, and they saw he had to be destroyed.
Later they got a cock-sucking interlude to impeach him. If I were he,
I would have called out the Army and sen

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