Author and professional personality Gore Vidal is a man who holds grudges. He holds them dearly, tenderly, and he'll hold them all to the grave, should he ever actually reach it. His sparring partners nearly all reside there these days—Truman Capote some time ago, Mailer (who he never actually hated that much, fistfights aside) more recently, and conservative intellectual William F. Buckley just last February. Buckley and Vidal's history goes back to the early 1960s, when they appeared on television together quite often to argue with each other, which was always thrilling, as the animosity between them was real. Which is easily seen in Vidal's non-obituary of Buckley, which is also a take-down of Newsweek's Buckley obituary. And of Newsweek itself, and the entire United States press, and even Buckley's "creepy" son Chris. It is, we're reasonably sure, the first thing Vidal's written on the subject of his enemy since Buckley's death, and quite possibly since well before that. As you might expect, it's a great (if sadly brief) read.
We're glad these two didn't die like Jefferson and Adams, on the same day, long having made up with each other. The other nice thing is that now that Buckley's dead, he can't sue Vidal for libel anymore, as he did when Esquire published Vidal's prose account of their most famous televised battle. ("Esquire cravenly agreed to settle with him for a few paragraphs worth of free advertising for his weird little magazine," Vidal reports.)
(That battle took place on ABC during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, a scene of civil disobedience and gross police brutality as Mayor Daley's cops beat the shit out of the yippies and hippies assembled to witness the party's coronation of miserable old Hubert Humphrey. The violence escalated, Buckley and Vidal's arguments became more heated. Buckley defended the cops, someone compared the demonstrators to Nazis, and Vidal said that the only crypto-Nazi he knew of in the room was Buckley. Over the cross-talk, Buckley called Vidal a "queer" and threatened to punch Vidal in the "goddamn face." The video is readily available.)
Vidal has, it seems not forgiven Buckley; either for the insults or for his role in ushering in the 20th century's conservative ascendancy. The accusations pile up: "Although Buckley was often drunk and out of control, he was always a spontaneous liar on any subject that his dizzy brain might extrude." That's how you remember the dead.
Vidal is unsatisfied with Newsweek's characterization of that television event, in which he is painted as one in a series of "bullies" that Buckley would not suffer. The offending passage, with Vidal's annotations in brackets:
Buckley bridled at bullies [we are assured]. But one of the rare times he lost his temper was debating Gore Vidal, who "got under his skin," says son Chris. When Vidal called Buckley a "crypto-Nazi," Buckley responded, "Now listen, you queer, you stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered." But usually his public manners were genteel [I think they mean gentile]. With "Firing Line" guests who seemed nervous or over their heads, Buckley was gentle. Behind the scenes, he could show remarkable kindness. In 1980, a rising conservative star, Congressman Bob Bauman, was soliciting a 16-year-old [male] for oral sex. Bauman had been a gay-basher, and he instantly became a pariah. The next day, knowing what lay ahead for the disgraced congressman, Buckley quietly gave him an envelope containing $10,000. "He was a knightly man," says Chris.
And Vidal's response:
Next, the loyal son, suspecting that the pejorative use of "queer" is politically incorrect in mag-land, Christopher rambles into a story about his father's kindness to a Mr. Bauman who had lost his seat in Congress after the congressman had been caught while soliciting Oral Sex from a 16-year-old male (note how prurient Newsweek's prose is, in describing undesirable people). Chris weeps into his computer as he describes how Dad gave the poor sinner of the flesh an envelope containing $10,000 (I bet?) in cash adding, mysteriously, "He was a knightly man": Who was—the cocksucker recipient of Buckley's charity? Or his admirer, Mr. Buckley himself?—Bauman was very right wing, it is said. RIP WFB—in hell.
"RIP WFB—in hell." Not quite epigrammatic, but decidedly economical.
If you're thirsting for more, the Vidal article that got Esquire sued is, naturally, available on the internet, despite being wiped from the Esquire archives. (The portion that led to the libel suit is when Vidal accuses a young Buckley of vandalizing a church as payback for the minister allowing Jews to move into their neighborhood.) It's chock-full of quality zingers, such as this, from when Vidal recounts how Buckley accused him of being a degenerate due to the outrageous content of Vidal's Myra Breckenridge: "Simply to go by their books, Agatha Christie is a mass murderess, while William Buckley is a practicing Christian."
Hah. It's too bad all of Vidal's enemies are now dead. President Bush is scarcely a worthy adversary. It's a shame how he seems to get along with Christopher Hitchens.