Serious, Mr. Vidal really was. Over the course of the campaign, he repeatedly proved so by devouring Jerry Brown's political lunch at a series of joint appearances and debates. Gore would convulse the brighter bulbs, and genuinely perplex poor Jerry when he cited the Governor's seven major campaigns in little over a decade as example of what he considered a major shortcoming of American electoral politics; that, as Gore would repart; "you never get a chance to think."
"If you sat Jerry Brown down and asked, why are you running, are you mad?" Vidal queried one evening that summer in Ravello, "I bet he would go absolutely blank." The proposition seemed to me true enough, because, as Gore maintained, "you're not supposed to ask them why they run. They run because it's a compulsion."
Fast-forward a quarter century. So many things circa 2012 have changed beyond recognition. Include among these Gore Vidal's departure from the world he loved so to hate at the exorbitant age of 86. No more will the roaring lion-of-the-left grumpily survey the acrid fruits of American political life about which he has so long and so exquisitely complained. Among that bitter harvest certainly count the latest turn in the career of the now once again California Governor, the-one-and-the-same Jerry Brown, against whose campaign mania Gore so long ago counseled. From his now heavenly haunt, Gore must surely be amused " but only just the slightest bit.
How different today's campaigns, including Jerry Brown's latest successful race for Governor from Gore Vidal's 1982 Senatorial run. That campaign lived at a level of rollicking thoughtfulness as dodo-dead as it was leagues beyond the expected campaign yuck and yack. Gore's was one of those gaudy, effervescently liberal crusades, reminiscent of Adlai Stevenson's runs for the Presidency, Gene McCarthy's 1968 "flower-power" campaign and indeed Gore's own unsuccessful 1960 run for Congress from Duchess County, New York. In that race, the titular head of the campaign was his friend and mentor, the sublime Eleanor Roosevelt. It was Mrs. R. who instilled in Vidal the upper-crusty, good-government notion that "one speaks to the people to educate them."
Twenty-two years and a dozen books, screenplays and collected essays later, Gore Vidal was once again testing that goo-goo proposition, although few actually understood how precisely Gore fit the founding fathers' model for a United States Senator. Raised in Washington D.C., the grandson of the sightless Democratic Senator from Oklahoma, Thomas P. Gore, Gore Vidal had literally led the nation's most noteworthy blind politician on and off the Senate floor. Through that familial, familiar lens, Vidal viewed the upper Federal Chamber as the founders had; as a forum where the nations wisest, most accomplished and secure could serve their Republic, impart lifetime lessons and then, damn it, just go home.
Semi-stepbrother of Jacqueline Kennedy, a Camelot intimate (at least until an-entirely-unclear-on-the-sexual-identity-concept Robert F. Kennedy assaulted him for paying too much attention to Jackie), Vidal had spent the intervening years thinking deeply and writing well about the American polity. In 1982, however, it was once again impossible to ignore that harping inner voice instructing him to do what he was seemingly born to do, run for office.
For Vidal, the campaign compulsion grew more onerous as it rolled along. "It's terrible for the character," he told interviewers about the toll of campaigning. He would then wait that famously precise quarter note beat before adding puckishly, "My own is deteriorating right before your very eyes."
I didn't happen to think so, but someone who did was a writer from the San Francisco Chronicle named Randy Shilts. Randy billed himself as the nation's first openly Gay mainstream newspaper reporter, and would soon gain fame as the author of "The Mayor of Castro Street," as well as "And the Band Played On." The latter, a 1987 deconstruction of the ravaging AIDs plague would ironically and tragically precurse Randy's own demise from the disease.