The news that Gore Vidal had died at the age of 86 was a generational landmark for me and doubtless other baby boomers; the often-insightful, frequently-witty; occasionally maddening man was just part of our mental furniture for decades on end. I read and liked most of his fiction, particularly his historical novels, and even when I didn’t (say, with Myra Breckinridge or the earlier Messiah), Vidal seemed to eloquently stand for a cultural perspective that needed to be heard.
But as most eulogies noted, Vidal was not only a literary and cultural figure, but very much a political animal. So like many sites today, I’m going to offer a clip from his famous live network TV collision with William F. Buckley, Jr., which I saw live at the time.
Insults and other fireworks aside, can you even begin to imagine a broadcast TV network these days choosing people like Buckley and Vidal to offer “expert commentary” during major-party political conventions? If you ever get bored, you should go to YouTube and watch the less famous but more stimulating Vidal-Buckley exchanges from 1968. And in any event, I imagine Vidal drew some grim satisfaction from outliving his conservative rival (who died in 2008), and getting, as he often did, the last word.