Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gore Vidal's United States of fury

Gore Vidal's United States of fury - At 84, the writer and activist may be confined to a wheelchair, but his rage – at his country, its leaders and citizens – burns as fiercely as ever. Johann Hari watches the sparks fly...

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."

But there is, he says with sudden perkiness, some "good news. Afghanistan will be terminal for the American empire, yes. Which is a happy way of looking at it. We'll be out of the empire game, rapidly. But it's too late for the country and the constitution." He raises his drink, and smiles ironically. "To a better republic," he says, and drinks in one long gulp.

contiue reading the excellent biographical interview by john hari...

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