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Gore Vidal and the Unfinished American Revolution

By       Message John Nichols     Permalink
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Gore was a founder displaced. He believed that America was not made, but rather that it was in the making.

There was a righteousness to his faith, as is always the case with genuine radicals. He identified with the most righteous reformers, the populists and the progressives of the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early days of the twentieth. He loved their determination to use electoral democracy to forge economic democracy. And he delighted in the prospect that, as one of his heroes, Robert M. La Follette, proposed, "the people shall rule."

Gore found a venue for his political advocacy in the pages of The Nation, and a publisher in Nation Books. Gore and I came to know one another as enthusiastic members of the Nation caucus that sought to renew an anti-imperialist ethic that ran deep for the first century of the American experiment. We recognized that a nation that sought to be democratic in any sense could not engage in the imperialism of King George III or President George II.

Gore wrote the introduction to my book The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism (New Press; 2006), opening with his announcement that, "Of course George Bush and Dick Cheney have committed acts that would merit impeachment. In a proper country, they would be tried as traitors. You don't lie to a country, get it into a war, waste a trillion dollars, kill a lot of people all because of your vanity and lust for oil and admiration for your corporate partners. If that isn't treason, I don't know what is."

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Note that line about "a proper country."

Gore spent much of his adult life in Ravello, an Italian redoubt to which he retreated with his beloved Howard during the Nixon years. It part, he went to Italy because he did not believe America to be a proper country. But when we would sit overlooking the sea in Ravello, the conversations would be, always, of the task of perfecting America.

Gore joked in 2000, when his distant cousin Al was seeking the presidency, that perhaps the wrong Gore was in the running.

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Two years later, we spent long summer afternoons and evenings in Ravello plotting the 2004 "Gore for President" campaign.

"I think America will be ready for a real alternative to Bush by then," Gore mused. "Think of Bush and Cheney as a cry for help. I shall answer my country's call."

The campaign never got beyond Ravello -- though Gore always contended that Iowa caucus-goers would have gone for him. But there was something more than revelry to the talk of a presidential run. Gore Vidal's political engagement was not merely literary or rhetorical. He stood seriously for the US House to represent New York in 1960, and for the US Senate to represent California in 1982. He could imagine himself as a legislator, in the traditional of his revered grandfather, Oklahoma Senator T.P. Gore, an anti-imperialist of the last century. Had he won his campaigns, he would have served -- as the founders did, not for position or prestige but for the purpose of making a republic worthy of Daniel Shays and the revolutionaries who did not believe it sufficient to replace the elites of London and Liverpool with the elites of New York and Washington.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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