America’s favorite contrarian waxes wroth and righteous blustery in this gathering of new and recycled aperçus concerning elections past and present.
Since 1972, Vidal (Dreaming War, 2003, etc.) has been delivering alternative State of the Union addresses, a practice first begun on the old David Susskind Show and continued to the present. (Of Susskind, Vidal writes, “He was commercially successful; he was also, surprisingly, a man of strong political views which he knew how to present so tactfully that the networks were often unaware of just what he was getting away with on their—our—air.”) In those days, Vidal had Dick Nixon to pick on, and then Reagan and the Bushes and even Clinton, which allows him to make trendspotting pronouncements with his customary bite: “Republicans are often stupider and more doctrinaire than the Democrats, who are cuter, a bit more corrupt (sigh of relief), but willing to make small—very small—adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists [are concerned].” No one quite exercises Vidal so much as George W. Bush, who presides over an administration that he deems a “reckless junta,” “nakedly predatory,” and all around bad news. Vidal is deeply irritated at most of what Bush and company do, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has read him before. He casts a wider net with some of his most recent ex cathedras, though, as when he notes that the head of the Diebold Corp., which makes voting machines, wrote a fundraising letter for the GOP in 2003 promising that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” That is hardly the impartiality one would hope for from a man in his position, but no surprise to Mr. Vidal, who merrily intones, “Sooner or later, wherever mischief lurks”—and vote-rigging is a species of the higher mischief, as far as politics goes—“a member of the Bush family can be observed on the premises.”
Vitriolic, bilious, venomous, and a lot of fun. Until, that is, you realize Vidal’s not kidding.