The Guardian on Gore Vidal: Whitewash of a ‘progressive’ literary figure’s inconvenient racism

Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

I’ve attempted over the years to balance my insatiable appetite for Jewish and Zionist history with an occasional work of classic fiction.  

However, literature has always taken a back seat to my love of world affairs and the moral and political-spiritual ideas which I believe move the world.

Often, it seems, great writers – masters of the written word –  don’t always possess a corresponding piercing cognition for the political world and understanding of the nature of man.

Amos Oz’s haunting literary autobiography ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ mesmerized me when I read it upon making Aliyah – and I can still vividly conjure the shape and color of his prose as if it was I who spent my childhood in Jerusalem, during those harrowing pre-state years.  Yet, Oz’s capacity to bring to life  his familial reality doesn’t seems at odd with his often puerile grasp of Israel’s security concerns.

Indeed, artists (be they film makers, playwrights, or novelists) often seem to possess a hubris which assumes a grasp of matters far outside their realm of expertise.

Mikis Theodorakis, composer of the score for the film ‘Zorba the Greek’, made headlines when he opined in 2003 that Israel “is the root of evil” and also several years later when he charged that “American Jews [were] behind the world economic crisis that has hit Greece.”

Though Tom Paulin’s academic and literary credentials may be impressive, his scholarly understanding of the human condition didn’t prevent him from engaging in hate speech and incitement , such as when he likened Zionism to Nazism.

The Guardian treated American Jewish playwright Tony Kushner as a martyr (in a series of profiles and commentaries) for the ‘slight’ of having his honorary degree at the City University of New York briefly delayed due to the row over the artist’s well-documented history of hateful vitriol regarding both Israel (suggesting it shouldn’t exist) and American Jewish Zionists (who he referred to as “among the most repulsive people”.)

That such artists possess a belief in their own transcendent moral understanding is not the least surprising.  Similarly, it would be naive to expect the media elite to engage in the slightest critical scrutiny of even the most fantastical political musings of such “respected” creative souls.

Since Gore Vidal’s death on July 31st, the Guardian has published 14 separate obituaries, commentaries, and reports (not including pictorial posts, pod casts and reprints of previous Guardian features) about the writer.

The haliographic characterizations of Vidal have included praise of his “wit and contrarian [nature]” and depictions of the writer, playwright and actor as one of the “towering figures of American cultural and political life”.

Nor was the Guardian’s praise limited to his literary and personal gifts.

Stuart Jeffries and Stephen MossinThe A-Z of Gore, wrote:

“He knew where he stood, never wavered from his Jeffersonian commitment to individual freedom.”

In the over 9,000 words the Guardian has devoted to Vidal there was only a brief mention of his primitive conspiratorial musings and only a casual reference to his Judeophobia.

Here is the sole entry: a witty, off-handed, casual observation by the Guardian’s Adam Mars-Jones, who wrote, in ‘My lunch at the Dorchester with Gore Vidal‘, the following:

“The hired tape recorder I was using for the interview had performed heroically at the LA Olympics but wasn’t fully recharged. After about half an hour of conversation it conked out. I was able to find a wall socket in the room and to plug it in, but when I listened back to the early parts of the recording, our voices progressively accelerated and rose in pitch as the motor began to fail. It happened that Vidal was complaining about a Jewish media conspiracy not to review his work when he started to sound, on playback, like an antisemitic munchkin. I imagine he would have regarded the indignity of his voice being distorted on the tape as more damaging than the distorted politics. I was amazed that this supreme insider could consider himself neglected.”

On those “distorted politics”:

Conspiracy theories

Vidal’s political pathos was so acute that he embraced the 9/11 “trutherism”, which concluded in the theory that the Bush administration was complicit in al-Qaida’s 2001 attacks.

Vidal complained that “the media was assigned its familiar task of inciting public opinion against Osama bin Laden” who, he insisted, was “still not the proven mastermind [of the attacks]”.  He claimed that the Bush administration was “probably” in on the 9/11 attacks; a criminal complicity that would “certainly fit them to a T”, and accused Bush of seeking a pretext to build a long-desired pipeline across Afghanistan. 

Racism/Antisemitism

Vidal proposed that the US and the USSR — an alliance he referred to as “the white race” — should unite to fight off the economic threat from “one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.”

As Paul Berman wrote in The New Republic:

“Vidal was a champion of the white race. He worried that, because of American imperial overreach, the white race’s moment of world domination had come to an end…And he feared that, if the white race failed to rally, ‘we are going to end up as farmers—or, worse, mere entertainment—for more than one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.'”

Vidal also wrote an introduction to a book of antisemitic propaganda (by extremist Israel Shahak) in which Vidal accused Jews of buying Harry Truman’s support for the founding of Israel for $2 million in cash, and added that “no other minority in American history [other than Jews] has ever hijacked so much money from the American taxpayers in order to invest in a ‘homeland'”.

Vidal’s antisemitic rants frequently insinuated that Jews were un-American and more loyal to Israel than the United States. The most notorious of these pieces, “The Empire Lovers Strike Back,” which ran in the The Nation on March 22, 1986, argued that “Jews born in the U.S. are only living here on the sufferance of guests and better therefore shut up about the politics of the host country”.

He characterized Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, as part of Israeli fifth column, intent on undermining the white race in the service of Israel.

Norman Podhoretz wrote a  prophetic November 1986 essay in Commentary in reaction to the Left’s relative silence to Vidal’s piece in the Nation – and the failure of progressive voices to denounce Vidal’s antisemitic outburst – expressing dismay at the fact that a magazine professedly devoted to liberal ideals provided a platform to such an odious essay.

Podhoretz wrote:

“[Antisemitic discourse] is meeting with more and more toleration, and sometimes even approval, on the Left.

liberals and other leftists, including large segments of the American Jewish community, go on refusing to face these immensely important facts. If they should therefore also go on failing to undertake the job of housecleaning…within their own political community, the poison of anti-Semitism will continue spreading through the American air, with what consequences no one can foresee.”

The title of Podhoretz’s 1986 piece was “The hate that dare not speak its name” and it is clear that the Guardian continues to be in the vanguard of the far Left’s moral abdication in the face of even the most egregious antisemitic discourse.

You do not have to be a sophisticated literary critic to understand that Vidal – much admired by progressive intellectuals – advanced the politics of a decidedly reactionary, racist crank.

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