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Political fires still raging in Gore Vidal at 81

AFP | October 11, 2006

For more than half a century, Gore Vidal has been a thorn in the side of the American establishment, and at age 81, the 'enfant terrible' of political commentary is as spiky as ever.

Sixty years after his debut novel "Williwaw" ushered in a literary career that has included over 35 novels, around 20 non-fiction titles and dozens of screenplays, Vidal's voice is still being heard.

This year he has featured as a prominent contributor to two movies, "The US vs John Lennon" and "Global Haywire", while the long-awaited second volume of his memoirs chronicling the 20th century will be published next month.

Vidal has also lent his support to the "World Can't Wait" pressure group, which calls for the immediate impeachment of President George W. Bush.

Frail health was one of the reasons why Vidal was last year forced to pack up his palazzo in Ravello, just outside Naples, where he had lived for 32 years, and relocate to a permanent residence in Los Angeles.

Yet the thought of simply fading away, to bask in the sunshine that bathes the lush garden of his elegant home in the Hollywood Hills, crammed with a lifetime's accumulation of books and antique furniture, is anathema.

A few days after his 81st birthday, the radical views that have informed Vidal's work are as incendiary as they always have been.

So it is no surprise to hear him declare that Bush won office in a coup d'etat and that the war on terror is a totalitarian con-trick designed to maintain a climate of fear.

In a wide-ranging interview with AFP, Vidal says there is a simple explanation for his enduring activism: "The state of the union."

"We have lost the republic, it's gone," he says with a sigh. "And it has happened in five years because of a great coup d'etat."

Bush, Vidal says, is to blame. Does he still stand by his 2002 comments that Bush will leave office as the most unpopular president in US history?

"I used a stronger word. I said most 'hated'. And I have proved to be a prophet," he declares.

While shrinking numbers of voters at successive US elections suggest a deep-seated political apathy, Vidal believes the trend is not irreversible.

"The fire is smouldering now," he says. "People are beginning to understand, slowly. But it's very difficult when the other side controls all of the media. They have no means of discovering what is wrong."

Yet the cynicism amongst voters is understandable.

"Our political parties are, in the words of President John Adams, factions," Vidal says. "They are conspiracies to gain power over the great offices of state. So people see no reason to vote, unless you get them on a hot issue like race or sex. And then everything becomes absurd."

Vidal is convinced that the current US government has exploited the September 11, 2001 attacks to pursue a "psychotic" policy.

"After 9/11, every TV, every radio in America was saying 'it's not if they attack us next it's 'when!'," Vidal says.

"And now Bush is saying 'We've gotta fight 'em over there, so we don't have to fight 'em over here'. As if Saddam Hussein was going to get in a little boat and row over to the United States to start a war with us!

"Keeping the people frightened was a great totalitarian trick which was learned by the dictatorships of Europe in the 1930s."

Vidal nevertheless admits to being frightened by the state of the world. "I am alarmed," he says. "One would be a fool not to be."

The notion that Christianity is engaged in an theological showdown with radical Islam is brushed aside with lofty contempt though.

"Bush pretends that we are a Christian republic, and that we're in war of cultures between the Christian world and the Muslim world," he says.

"Well we're not all that Christian in the United States and there's no reason in any case for a war."

Vidal also disdains the growing band of Internet conspiracy theorists who blame the government for 9/11.

"Bush could never have blown up the towers. He's too incompetent," he says. "Everything he touches is a disaster. No -- 9/11 was a beautifully executed attack on the United States, far beyond his capacity."

The rest of the world, meanwhile, has been slow to grasp what has taken place in America since the 2000 election, which he insists was a coup made possible by electoral fraud.

"It was a coup d'etat, you must look at it like that," he implores. "This is not hyperbole, this is not exaggeration, it's fact.

"Europeans never get the point about the United States because they have no idea about how we function or why we do what we do, and they don't want to know," Vidal says. "And we return the compliment."


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