Friday, August 31, 2012
Gore Vidal and the State of the Union
It is fascinating to read his words. Certain phrases come to mind, and though they may be desperately trite, they still resonate: "What goes around, comes around." Or "those who forget history are destined to repeat it."
In his book, Imperial America,  Vidal recalls his "State of the Union" from 1972. "Looking back at past states of the union," he writes, "it is remarkable how things tend to stay the same. Race-gender wars are always on our overcrowded back burners. There is also--always--a horrendous foreign enemy at hand ready to blow us up in the night out of hatred for our Goodness and rosy plumpness. ...
"In the decades since this state of the union, the United States has more people, per capita, locked away in prisons than any other country while the sick economy of '72 is long forgotten as worse problems--and deficits--beset us. For one thing, we no longer live in a nation, but in a Homeland. In 1972: roughly 80 percent of police work in the United States has to do with the regulation of our private morals.'"
Private morals, Vidal says, has to do with "what we smoke, eat, put in our veins--not to mention trying to regulate with whom and how we have sex, with whom and how we gamble. As a result our police are among the most corrupt in the Western world."
Vidal says "All drugs should be legalized and sold at cost to anyone with a prescription."
Prohibition didn't work with alcohol and it doesn't work with drugs. Because of "the busy lunatics who rule over us, we are permanently the United States of Amnesia. We learn nothing because we remember nothing."
But even worse, "From the Drug Enforcement Agency to the FBI, we are afflicted with all sorts of secret police, busily spying on us." [The amount of spying on U.S. citizens by the government has grown exponentially since Vidal wrote this in 2004!].
"Now (2004) that we have ceased to be a nation under law, but a homeland where the withered Bill of Rights, like a dead trumpet vine, clings to our pseudo Roman columns, Homeland Security appears to be uniting our secret police into a single sort of Gestapo with dossiers on everyone to prevent us, somehow or other, from being terrorized by various implacable Second and Third World enemies. Where is no known Al Qaeda sort of threat, we create one, as in Iraq, whose leader, Saddam Hussein, had no connection with 9-11 or any other proven terrorism against the United States, making it necessary for a president to invent the lawless as well as evil (to use his Bible-based language) doctrine of preemptive war based on a sort of hunch that maybe one day some country might attack us so, meanwhile, as he and his business associates covet their oil, we go to war, leveling their cities to be rebuilt by other business associates. ..."
Vidal, in his 1972 state of the union, explains that he strikes "a few mildly optimistic notes. 'We should', he says, 'have a national health service, something every civilized country in the world has. Also, improved public transportation (trains!). Also, schools which do more than teach conformity. Also, a cleaning of the air, of the water, of the earth before we all die of poisons set looses by a society based on greed.'" ...
Mr. Vidal goes on to mention something I believe to be of utmost importance. The question may be moot as the Supremes have let the horse out of the barn and it may be impossible to catch it and put it back in the stall where it belongs. I'm talking about campaign finance.
Vidal asked and answered an important question: "What to do? I proposed that no candidate for any office be allowed to buy space on television or in any newspaper or other medium: 'This will stop cold the present system, where presidents and congressmen are bought by corporations and even by foreign countries."
Oh, if he could see us now!
Furthermore, said Vidal, "'I would also propose a four-week election period as opposed to the current four-year marathon. Four weeks is more than enough time to present the issues."
In 1972, Mr.Vidal noted that the people who listened to his state of the union had generally a strong hatred for the government. Not much has changed since then. From one end of the country to the other, people told him "We hate this system that we are trapped in, but we don't know who trapped us or how. We don't even know what our cage looks like because we have never seen it from the outside. Now, thirty-one years later, audiences still want to know who will let them out of the Enron-Pentagon prison with its socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor."
Just change a few words. Make it the "Wall Street-Pentagon prison" or the "Corporate-Pentagon prison." Remember the Citizens United decision by the so-called "conservatives" on the U.S. Supreme Court and Romney's words to the folks working in the trenches: "Corporations are people, too."
Most everything Vidal wrote in 1972 remains valid today! Which is damn frightening because it means we're spinning our wheels. Actually, when you consider the Republicans who want to be in charge of the world, we've somehow slipped back into the 16th century, economically, religiously, sexually, politically. It's not a pretty sight.
[Gore Vidal died a few weeks ago at the age of 86. We will miss him in many ways, but perhaps most for his razor-sharp wit and political insight. May he RIP!]