Gore Vidal: in his own words

That brilliant American man of letters, Gore Vidal, was featured on the South Bank Show last night. Melvyn Bragg had secured an interview with the great man in his new LA home, after decades of self-imposed exile in Italy.

I have previously tried – and failed – to tempt him to Belfast to deliver our Amnesty International Annual Lecture. I don't suppose the physically ailing (but still mentally astute) octogenarian may ever again make it to Irish shores, although he will be in Britain shortly.

In any case, the South Bank Show was a timely reminder to me to get reading more of Vidal's books and essays (he has been pretty prolific in the 60 years-plus of his writing career).

Vidal is a great writer of fiction, essayist and a chronicler of America's political and social history, an ardent fan of the American republic and an outspoken critic of the American empire

Anyway, whether you agree or disagree with what Vidal has to say, his wit and wisdom are eminently quotable. So, for your reading pleasure, here are a few of his perceptive / acerbic / hilarious / outrageous / despicable (take your pick – I don't really care) lines from down through the years.

In this US Presidential election year, I thought it would be fun to include a few of his thoughts on that topic (sorry, I'm mostly of the cynical 'Coke vs Pepsi' school of thought on American politics).

On 9/11, rights and American foreign policy…

'It is fairly plain to many civil libertarians that 9/11 put paid not only to much of our fragile Bill of Rights but also to our once-envied system of government which had taken a mortal blow the previous year when the Supreme Court did a little dance in 5/4 time and replaced a popularly elected President with the oil and gas Bush-Cheney junta.'

'It is interesting how often in our history, when disaster strikes, incompetence is considered a better alibi than …. Well, yes, there are worse things.'

'Americans have no idea of the extent of their government's mischief … the number of military strikes we have made unprovoked, against other countries, since 1947 is more than 250.'

'Now you have people in Washington who have no interest in the country at all. They're interested in their companies, their corporations grabbing Caspian oil.'

'I don't see us winning the war. We have made enemies of one billion Muslims.'

On US Presidential elections…

'It makes no difference who you vote for – the two parties are really one party representing four percent of the people.'

'Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.'

'Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.'

'By the time a man gets to be presidential material, he's been bought ten times over.'

'Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.'

'Democracy is supposed to give you the feeling of choice, like Painkiller X and Painkiller Y. But they're both just aspirin.'

Finally, some classic Gore Vidal bitchy fun…

'A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.'

'There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.'

'The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.'

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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