Friday, May 30, 2008

Gore Vidal: JFK Was A Pretty Bad President

(image via theindependent)

The legendary Gore Vidal visited Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" to talk about the war, the state of our embattled Republic, and his life, now presently drawing to a majestic close. Vidal, the greatest American essayist -- including Mark twain -- has outlived nearly all of his contemporaries. In fact, as he has suggested often, he has outlived the post-war era where "novelists" were culturally as relevant as comedians are in our present age. Who now even remembers the once mighty Vance Bourjaily? Or even John Dos Passos.

The subject of their conversation veered at one point to his old friend JFK, of who's Camelot court Vidal was a member until a drunken argument with the choleric Robert Kennedy caused a revocation of his open invite to the White house.

Vidal has lived through one-third of this American republic, and is it's unofficial chronicler. He revels in saying provocative and often highly intelligent things. This time the subject is Kennedy. From Democracy Now:

"AMY GOODMAN: What did you think of the Kennedys?

"GORE VIDAL: Which ones?

"AMY GOODMAN: Of Jacqueline Kennedy and John, the President?

"GORE VIDAL: Well, I never thought of them as being glued together, no. I knew Jack first. Then I saw a good bit of Jackie. And I first got interested in them when he ran for—the convention nominated Adlai Stevenson, and he wanted to be the running mate, and I knew Stevenson, so he asked me some questions. I realized he was serious.

"AMY GOODMAN: What did you think of Jack Kennedy as president?

"GORE VIDAL: Well, he was a pretty bad president, but—by any standard. But he was one of the most charming men I’ve ever known and very shrewd. He wasn’t taken in by anybody or anything.

"AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean he was a bad president?

"GORE VIDAL: Well, I don’t think the Bay of Pigs was a good move, do you? And I don’t think quarreling with Khrushchev when he got to Vienna was a good thing to do. I can think of practically everything he did that was basically disastrous and leading us closer to war. The Gores are one of the leading antiwar families all the way back to the Civil War, which, although they were Southern, they did not want to secede from the Union. So I have a whole fix on war that he didn’t have. He thought it was romantic. He was funny about PT-109. His father made him a hero after he lost his boat. And he said, to my surprise, 'I came back expecting to be court-martialed, and my father has made me a hero.' He got John Hersey to write about him in The New Yorker, I guess it was.

"AMY GOODMAN: What happened with PT-109?

"GORE VIDAL: Well, Jack was not a good pilot. So he ran his ship right in front of a battleship or a destroyer, I forget which, and it was cut in half. The crew was jumping around in the sea. Jack got decorated for saving the life of one of them, and that was it. From then on, it was one of the great war heroes of all time. Joe Kennedy knew how to manipulate publicity."

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