Monday, March 03, 2008

Buckley vs. Vidal (Continued)

Continuing from Fred Kaplan's biography of Vidal:

Buckley's first national television appearance the next week was a splendid success. Irregularly handsome, with a genius for distorting his facial features as if his skin were soft plastic and an ability to contort his figure into an infinite variety of slouches and stretches, he took to television with sly enthusiasm. The camera found him interesting if not fascinating. His face was often a highlight of the show. He knew intuitively that it was better to be a "character," visibly if not eccentrically distinctive in voice and appearance, than to be ordinarily handsome or conventionally photogenic. Outspoken, witty, clever, aggressively and self-expressively abrasive, with a sense of humor that tended toward ironic repartee, sometimes ponderous with a touch of pretension, Buckley entertainingly fenced for about fifteen minutes with Paar and his colleague, Hugh Downs. His voice and mannerisms were both riveting and engagingly self-parodic. A television star was born. As a liberal Republican, Paar engaged Buckley in an effort to define words like "liberal" and "conservative." Buckley defended McCarthy, advocated that America invade Cuba, and proposed that serious consideration be given to going to war with Communist China. In passing Buckley accused President Truman of having called President Eisenhower anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic. To Paar, Buckley's positions were chillingly inhumane. Harry Golden, the Southern Jewish humorist, who came on after Buckley had left, quipped that Buckley wanted to "repeal the twentieth century and also defeat Roosevelt for a second term." The problem with Buckley, Paar told his audience, was that he did not like people. He certainly did not like Gore Vidal. As with so many of Buckley's appearances in public debate, his appearance on the Paar show was prelude to more. Statements needed verification or amplification. Vidal returned to the Paar show to respond to Buckley. Buckley and Paar exchanged additional clarifications. Vidal bet Buckley, through Paar, that he could not prove his claim that Truman had called Eisenhower anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic. Buckley provided his "proof," a press report that Truman had referred to Eisenhower not being sensitive enough to Jewish and Catholic political concerns. In context it did not seem proof at all to Vidal or Paar. "Are you, on top of everything, a welcher?" Buckley responded. "I had assumed you would apologize for the distortions and untruths you spoke about my family and myself and the National Review. Very well, we'll let that go. You are not that kind of man."