Gore Vidal on Bill Buckley

Few of even the die-hard National Review readers mention Bill Buckley much anymore, and even fewer actually read anything he wrote, but once upon a time, the man was the central figure of the American conservative movement.

I was reminded of his quickly-fading legacy the other day when I came across a hard copy of this 2009 article about the life of Buckley, who died in 2008, in Vanity Fair.

It is largely a puff piece, but it does nicely illustrate the life of ease and leisure the Buckleys enjoyed while advocating for the mass murder of Russians and Vietnamese at Manhattan parties with the insufferable elites of New York Society.

Within the article, however, is a section that covers the conflict between Gore Vidal and Buckley, including Buckley’s “observation” that Vidal was a “pink queer.”  Says Vidal:

“He was out to get me from the very beginning,” he says. “He wanted me to write for his little magazine [National Review]. I spurned him, and he didn’t like that. Bear in mind, this was a very stupid guy, who never read any of those books he referred to, and Americans, being such hicks, thought he was a great nobleman and a real gentleman.”

Most writers who try to make a point using insults are generally quite bad at it, and anything but clever, but Vidal (and H.L. Mencken too) was a true artist in this medium.

Vidal’s charge that Buckley’s scholarship was very shallow (unlike that of Frank Meyer) is highly plausible, and I especially like how Vidal manages to work in there an insult directed at the entire American population. He certainly has a point with the hick thing. It seems all one has to do in this country is put on an affected voice that somewhat approximates one of those horrific patrician accents of the American northeast, and people fall all over themselves telling you how ultra-civilized the person in question must be.

But it certainly worked for Buckley, and the rubes who thought that “duck and cover” was sound advice ate it up. Vidal’s charges against Buckley actually ring true, although I can’t say as much for Buckley’s vicious attack “obituary” for Murray Rothbard.




10:01 am on January 24, 2014