Gore Vidal remains one of the more prolific contemporary American writers and certainly one of the most politically outspoken. Shortly after his recent 80th-birthday celebration, Nation contributing editor Marc Cooper interviewed him in his Hollywood home. Herewith, a condensed version of that conversation. . –The Editors
Q: In the introduction to your new book, Imperial America, you begin by saying that the four sweetest words in the American lexicon are “I told you so.” What were you gloating about?
A: Oh, everything. The principal bit of wisdom that I had to purvey, which I got from Thomas Jefferson and he got from Montesquieu, is that you cannot maintain a republic and empire simultaneously. The Romans couldn’t do it. The Brits could only manage it up to a certain point, but then ended up going broke. The Venetians were an empire, and the United States. And in each case the republics were lost. Starting with our war against Mexico in 1846, which was to acquire California, we’ve been in a serious, naked grab, grab, grab imperial mood.
Q: In that respect, how different is the Bush Administration? Anything new here, or part of that same historical arc?
A: Well, a lot is different. The machinery is all changed. Nuclear and bacteriological weapons exist. We can kill a lot more people. But there have been things unimaginable to me and most Americans–that we would have a government that is absolutely in your face to every country on earth. We have insulted everybody.
Q: We now see that House majority leader Tom DeLay has been indicted. The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, is under investigation by the SEC. We’ve seen the debacle around Michael “Brownie” Brown and FEMA. Is this Administration finally collapsing under its own weight?
A: ”Under its own lack of weight” [laughing], I think, is the phrase you are searching for.
Q: Sort of the unbearable lightness?
A: Yes, the unbearable lightness. Or here DeLay–gone tomorrow. Yes, I do believe it is breaking up. And the indictment of DeLay would not have happened had there not been two hurricanes, which dramatized to everybody in the United States that we don’t have a government. And to the extent we do have one it is not only corrupt but a menace to other countries, to our liberties, to our Bill of Rights.
Q: If, indeed, this Administration is collapsing for lack of weight, what comes after it?
A: Martial law, that’s next. Bush is like a plane of glass. You can see all the worms turning around in his head at any moment. The first giveaway of what’s on his mind–or the junta’s mind.
Q: The junta being…?
A: Cheney, who runs everything, I suspect. And a few other serious operators. Anyway, I first noticed this was on their mind when Bush finally woke up to the fact that the hurricanes were not going to be good PR for him. And he starts to think friends of his are going to be running in ’08. So what’s the first thing he does? The first thing on the mind of a dictator? He gets the National Guard away from the governors. The Guard is under the governors, but Bush is always saying, Let’s turn it over to the military. This is what’s on their mind. Under military control.