Monday, March 03, 2008

Buckley vs. Vidal (The Beginning)

From Fred Kaplan's biography of Vidal:

Vidal and Buckley met for the first time in New York in September 1962, on an Open End program in which [David] Susskind pitted them against one another the entire time. They were, from an even earlier date, natural enemies who gradually became aware of one another's existence. In his mid-twenties Buckley had read The City and The Pillar and disapproved of it on moral grounds. For Buckley, homosexual acts were sinful, those who performed them inevitably to be slightly if not harshly identified mainly by this deep perversion. [Christ, Kaplan, that is a shitty string of adverbs.] When Gore and Buckley agreed in late 1961, at the request of the Associated Press, to debate in print the "liberal" versus the "conservative" position, their names were publicly juxtaposed for the first time. In preparation for his article Vidal got from a friend at Life information from its files on Buckley. In his column Buckley argued the conservative view that liberalism was an intellectually bankrupt political philosophy responsible for most of the ills of the twentieth century. Somehow liberalism was to be blamed for both Hitler and Stalin. Vidal argued that the real conflict was between conservatives, like John Kennedy, and reactionaries, like Barry Goldwater. The reactionaries, who had strong reservations about majority rule, feared democracy. To Buckley and his associates Vidal seemed a dishonest fanatic of the extreme Left and almost certainly a homosexual; they believed homosexuality to be an illness. In mid-January 1962, on one of his frequent appearances on the Jack Paar Tonight show, Vidal referred in passing to a recent National Review statement harshly critical of Pope John XXIII's liberal social positions. The Review had called the Pope's recent encyclical "a venture in triviality." The Pope supported aid to underdeveloped countries, which Buckley opposed. He also seemed insufficiently distressed about the Communist threat. To Buckley, the enemy was now within the gates. In a following issue Buckley reported to National Review readers that many American Catholics, disapproving of the encyclical, accepted the Church as "Mother," not "Teacher." Mainstream Catholics were incensed. From Vidal's point of view Buckley's attack on the Pope's views emblemized the extremism of radical conservatism. Paar agreed. Either Paar's office called Buckley and asked if he'd like to respond, as Buckley recalls, or Buckley called Paar and requested equal time, as Vidal recalls.