JB: Welcome to another edition of We the People. This is Jerry Brown. My guest this hour is Gore Vidal, author of over 22 books, movie star, movie writer, former opponent of mine in the 1982 campaign -- he lost to me, I lost to Pete Wilson, so we are linked in that political era of the past, which is I think long gone. Mr. Vidal also ran for Congress in 1960, he is related, in some fashion that maybe he can explain, to Jackie Kennedy, to the Auchincloss clan; he has had knowledge, friendships with people like Anais Nin, all sorts of writers; he's seen power up close, he's written about it: he knows, his grandfather was a senator, from Oklahoma; his father was at West Point, when he was born; -- a very interesting, very rich, very diverse life; it's a pleasure to have you here, with We The People, from Los Angeles!
GV: I am happy to be with We The People, as one of the people, and I think that our long-deferred debate of 1982 is now going to take place, a mere 14 years later. At least we deliver!
JB: We deliver. It wasn't much of a debate, because my goal, in that debate, was just to get through it without any ... without suffering any slings and arrows.
GV: You did. I say this a little sorrowfully, 14 years later, but here we are.
JB: I remember your principal charge in the 1982 Senate campaign -- this was the primary, of course -- was that I was the prisoner of my own ambition.
GV: Yes! I think that was probably well-observed. I was also interested in the B2 bomber, with which you had a most unnatural affection, all the way through.
JB: I did support the B2 bomber, and I'll tell you why: because, first of all, I thought I needed some defense "stuff" in my bio,
GV: uh, "stuff" is a euphemism for "money" ...
JB: Yeah, I did get money from Rockwell, in fact I talked to the president of Rockwell, and I noticed that Alan Cranston was a big supporter of the B1 bomber, and I went out and visited -- they also made the Space Shuttle, and of course I liked the space program -- and I remember, I can't remember the fellow's name, but I recall either he or Alan Cranston saying "Well, the beautiful thing about the B1 bomber is it can be recalled" -- it's not like a missile; so if you send it on its way to Russia, you can radio the pilot and say "come on back"; and number two, you can use it for conventional bombing runs. Now,
GV: Unfortunately, you could never get back the money that went to pay for it -- that was the horrible thing. And it goes on and on, I think.
JB: Well, I think the B1 bomber is a classic case. First of all, of how easily -- how easy you can buy a politician. I don't think Rockwell gave me more than $5,000 bucks. Maybe a couple thousand more from their executives ... I mean, it is pathetic, how cheaply we sell, we sell out. That's number one. And then of course, I rationalized, because Alan Cranston was supposed to be the liberal, and he was actually a member of the World Federalists at one time in his life.
GV: Yes, I remember.
JB: And then the third point, which is no big surprise to people who listen to Pacifica radio, but the B1 bomber never flew! There were 100 of them; three crashed, and 97 were grounded. And the, as I understand it, the last time I saw a report on the B1 bomber, which was about 10 years ago, is the refrigeration, just to keep them at the right temperatures, was something like $1 billion dollars a year.
GV: Well it's a, it was a beautiful work of art. We look back on it, along with the Spruce Goose, of Howard Hughes in the Second World War, one of those dodos. He at least spent his own money! I thought then, and I think now, we could still -- a politician -- might get some mileage out of it, to talk about conversion from a militarized economy, uh, to a real economy. We became militarized in 1950, when Harry Truman decided that uh, we were to be forever -- not only, most of the budget would be military, but the Defense Department -- he invented that, invented the CIA, loyalty oaths and so on, and it's ... No politician's ever grasped that ... The nearest I saw anybody come it was you nearly four years ago in Connecticut, when I was occasionally sending you a fax, and you hit -- I said all along, find the place where the government is about to terminate a contract, and the schedule of the SeaWolf submarine, the workers, skilled workers, are going to be let go, and say, "No, we're going to keep you, you won't be let go, make bullet trains instead of submarines." And you took the Connecticul primary with that one line. With a bit of luck, you might have taken the whole country, once it had been explained to the people that something like $5 trillion dollars had gone down the drain and they didn't have decent schools. No health care, because that's communist, health care for everybody. That was -- that's the beginning; until you've transferred the money from Pentagon overruns and so on, not to mention the CIA which should be, I think, dissolved, it's of no use -- a great source of mischief -- I don't see any point to the FBI, by and large -- what's it there for? Collecting dossiers on justices of the Supreme Court? They used to be, at least in J. Edgar Hoover's time, they were very good about, uh, chasing automobiles across state lines, stolen automobiles. And they were pretty good on kidnappings. Now they're talking about dossiers on everybody; why should there be one?
JB: Well they have to check everyone out, for jobs. For example if you were given a job on some kind of a monument commission, they want to give you a drug test, they want to check your background, they want to interview your neighbors, and then they put that in the files.
GV: But the answer to that is, whose business? By what right? What an invasion of the privacy of an individual. I suppose if you were dealing with a very highly secret matter, you would want to check somebody out, but in the absence of an official enemy like the Soviet Union, it's too much. And it's too expensive.
JB: Is there any evidence that there were these checks of people in the early presidency, in the early government of the United States? Do you have any knowledge of that?
GV: No, no. The Founding Fathers were all foreign agents. Alexander Hamilton was a British agent, I think -- number twelve; Aaron Burr was an agent for the French Directory, and General Wilkinson, the commanding general of the American Army at the time of President Jefferson, was a paid agent of the Spanish government -- and our big enemy was, of course, the Spanish in Mexico. So here were three of the major figures, and many minor ones, were all on the take from foreign governments. And fairly open about it. They'd say, "Well, we're for the French because we like the French Revolution." The Brits, we'd say, "Well, we're anti-revolution, we're conservative, so we're pro-British." That's gone on since the beginning, but it wasn't until Truman decided that we were to be totally militarized, and that was the National Security Council Act number 68, which was done in, I think, 1948, they got an act through Congress which didn't make much sense, -- '50 it was enacted ... It wasn't until '73 under the Freedom of Information Act, that anybody ever got to see this thing. And there were seven points. One was that we never deal with the Soviet Union, we never have another meeting with them, because they were liars. Two, we go ahead with the hydrogen bomb, so that when they got the atom bomb, we would be that much ahead of them, and then the militarizing of everything -- we would be under the government, most Americans. And the peacetime draft [was also ... ?], and, finally, the CIA, which has been making mischief to this day, on every corner of the earth.
JB: I want to raise a point, now that you talk about the hydrogen bomb and what have you, Looking through the Internet for information about the Oversight Board of the CIA activity in Guatemala, I came across something called the National Security Archive, which is a project that uncovers documents, and one of the documents that they had listed, which I downloaded, was a memo from a fellow named Gerard Smith. Gerard Smith, I think was in the State Department, I believe he might have even headed up the American section on Cuba for awhile, but he was a part of the Establishment. He wrote a memo to Christian Herder , the Secretary of State. This was in 1957. And the memo was about two islands, called Quimoy and Matsu. GV: (Oh, yes). JB: And in this memo, he quoted what was called the J.C.S. Planning document. The Joint Chiefs of Staff. And the planning was, that for the defense of Quimoy and Matsu, if the Chinese were to try to move on them, that the plan was to use low-yield nuclear weapons -- 20,000 kilotons -- which is the equivalent of what was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And in this memo, Gerard Smith says to Christian Herder, "If we do that, the Chinese can be expected to bomb the Seventh Fleet, and Taiwan, in which case we will retaliate, " ... Oh, one more thing I didn't mention, that the low-kiloton nuclear bombs would be dropped on Canton and Shanghai, several million lives could be expected to be lost, before it escalated, before there was any retaliation. And so, in this memo, this is 1957 now, before the '60 campaign, Gerard Smith says, "I recommend that we don't clarify our position, much less make it known, or make it clear, that we're committed to defend these two islands. Now here's the point. I remember the debate in 1960, when Jack Kennedy said something about Quimoy and Matsu, they weren't defending enough. Now, Kennedy must have known -- because he gets briefed on this stuff -- that the only way to defend those islands was with nuclear weapons. And the only way to do that is to kill millions of people. So then, the question is, is this another piece of evidence of Jack Kennedy's recklessness?
GV: Well, not only reckless, he was a war lover. And he was taunting Nixon all the way through about (imitating Jack Kennedy's accent) "Quimoy and Matsu, whoever stands strong there, will hold the world in his hand." And, (imitating Nixon's voice) "Oh, I don't want to say that Senator Kennedy is a Communist, no, I wouldn't say he was a Communist, -- This dumb, dumb debate went on and on, but what was under it was not dumb at all. Kennedy knew perfectly well that there was no missile gap, that we were far ahead of the Soviet Union. Kennedy was basically ... What he wanted, in one sentence, and I knew him pretty well, he wanted to win the Cold War, preferably with a hot war. And, he made a couple of attempts. The invasion of Cuba, which all went wrong; yes, it was planned by the Eisenhower administration, but he didn't have to say yes, and he didn't have to bungle it. He tries a war in Laos, and he can't get anybody interested in Laos, and then suddenly there's Vietnam, where we can stand tall. So, largely due, in part to his father and Cardinal Spellman, who are in with the Diem family -- a Roman Catholic, who ran Vietnam -- we began to send -- advisors were already there under Eisenhower, Jack just increased them and increased them. And Pace Oliver Stone, but Jack did not intend to take a little trip to Dallas and come back and stop a war that he had just started. That's not the way the world works. He saw himself as a kind of a culmination of history. He believed all of this idiotic rhetoric which Harry Truman had started -- and Truman was totally cynical. Eisenhower was totally cynical. They knew the Russians weren't going anywhere, they were too weak. They knew it would be a generation before they would be competition for us domestically, or militarily. In the long run, China might be dangerous, but there was no sign of any danger at that time, it was this great mass of people. So they were acting out this very dangerous political and international theater, for the world, for domestic political reasons on the one hand, which is okay: it's fair enough to lie to the American people, most presidents do at one time or another; in good or bad faith; but, to believe your lies. This is where men become dangerous. Adolf Hitler, I'm told, was a great administrator, but unfortunately, he believed all of his ugly rhetoric, and turned out to be a monster. Jack believed that war could be won, and he kept saying -- and I remember I said to him once, "I've counted in your speeches now - - (mocking Kennedy's voice) 'Now in this twilight time' -- I said, what are you, you're 44 years old, what are you talking about 'twilight time'? The United States is on top of the world: we're the number one economy, the number one militarily, and you're doing 'twilight time'." Well, one reason is he was dying. He was not going to make it to 50, I don't think, he might have, with great medicine, lived longer. He was physically fragile, he had a great fatalism, and why not have his moment of glory? "After all," he said to me once, he said, "what would Lincoln have been without the Civil War?" I said, "You think it's worth having your face on Mount Rushmore, to kill 600,000 men in a war, as opposed to perhaps, 600 million in a war in Asia? He was just cockeyed, really, and ... a sad ending, very charming guy, intelligent. But if somebody that bright can get taken up by this rhetoric, and politicss, it's very scary, as you yourself know, having been in this particular trade at the presidential level.
JB: The impression I had of Kennedy, though, was one of pragmatism, cynical. The word they loved was "tough". They liked Jesse Unruh in California because he was "tough". Pat Brown, he was "soft". Those were the words that came out of the Kennedy era.
GV: I must say, it was Gene McCarthy who always had something sardonic to say about people. He couldn't stand the Kennedys. And he said, "Have you ever noticed about the Kennedys? They only play touch football. I played football. So, their toughness was all play-acting. They had fixes, and they had thugs, even, to get things their way. Adlai Stevenson, as you know, was always "That old woman". To them, if there was anything worse than a woman, it was an old woman. And that was Adlai Stevenson. No, they were filled with contempt for the rest of the world, and it was hubris. It reminds you that the Great Sky God, if there is one, is probably Greek.
JB: So, you mentioned -- you brought up Kennedy. I don't know whether you want to talk about it, but during -- this connection between Kennedy and the mob.
GV: Well, it's a great subject, and there's going to be a book about it, and a TV special, within a year, by a very distinguished journalist who's been working on it for a number of years. And it goes back to Jack's grandfather, the famous Honey Fitz -- Fitzgerald, who was mayor of Boston at the time of Prohibition. And His Honor, the mayor -- all the bootleg liquor went through the mayor's office -- and the mayor got paid off, it came down from Canada -- prostitution, numbers -- all this, the mayor was in charge of. Then his daughter marries young Joe Kennedy, out of Harvard; and meanwhile, his honor the mayor was being helped all the time by a young Italian from New York, called Frank Costello. So then the torch passes when young Joe Kennedy comes into the family as a son-in-law, and they get ...
JB: Wait a minute ... there is a connection between Frank Costello and Honey Fitz?
GV: Oh yeah, yes ...
JB: This is not conjecture?
GV: This is not conjecture, and I'll tell you where it ends. So, Joe Kennedy comes into the family, and they get him a small bank, which is used largely for laundering money. He also gets into the bootleg business, and later into the legitimate whiskey business, and makes his fortune. A now much older, but still bright young Frank Costello, is working with him. In due course -- to end up with that -- Once a week Joe Kennedy, they had this apartment in Central Park South in New York, and he and Frank Costello, while his son was President, and Frank Costello the retired head of the Mob, they'd have dinner, just the two old guys ...
JB: Joe and Frank?
GV: Joe and Frank, and there was a guy who was a member of the Teamsters Union, who gave great massages. So he would come over and massage the two old guys, and sometimes they'd ask him to stay with them for dinner. And they would talk and chuckle over their crimes, and there was Jack down in Washington being a virtuous President. Now, to get more into politics, at the time of the 1960 primaries, Jack was having his problems with Hubert Humphrey, who really was the sort of Liberal Leader of the party, and was very strong in Wisconsin. So Jack had to make a great showing in the next state, which was West Virginia, and West Virginia is a state where you buy the election -- well at least in those days. Cash is handed out. Cash came in by the flood. Everybody thought it was old Joe Kennedy, but he didn't have cash like that. It came from Sam Gianconni, the head of the Mob in Chicago. And that connection went right on up until - - who knows when? But this Miss Exner, who was involved, who was both the girlfriend of Gianconni and of Kennedy, and she alleges to have brought money from Chicago to Palm Beach.
JB: I knew that they had ... the affair, is out there. She's written a book that she'd had an affair with Sam Gianconni and Kennedy. I'd never heard that about the money.
GV: And meanwhile, Gianconni, under the Eisenhower administration, had been working to kill Castro, for the American government, for the Republican party to get back the casinos which had belonged to the Mob, who were also part of his chain of command.
All right, let's just stop at that point. You're listening to We The People, I'm speaking with Gore Vidal, we'll be right back.
JB: You're back with We The People. The number for those of you who'd like to get more information, support or join We The People, is 800-426-1112. 800-426-1112. Please write it down and give us a call today. My guest is Gore Vidal. The subject ... well, the subject is power, it's the government, it's the Kennedys, it's the theator of illusion that the degenerate state of democracy has evolved to. Now, let me just follow a point here. You made a quick point here about the Republicans actually hiring the Mafia, you said to get the casinos back. That's very hard for a red-blooded, normal, middle-class American to believe, actually. And maybe you could elaborate on that ... I have heard stories that the U.S. government, I guess it would be under Roosevelt or Truman, asked the Mob to help with the campaign in Salerno, or to do some stuff there, in Sicily -- the Sicilian campaign. But, now, is there a connection? Does it go through? and does it tie in to the Kennedy assassination?
GV: Well, I think it ... as for the Eisenhower connection, that was simply frenzied anti-Communism, but back of it was money. Back of it was the Mob, so the old Latin question "qui bono?" -- who benefits? -- Nixon was the Vice President, he was the White House man for Cuba, and they decided that it was a good idea to kill Castro; well, how do you kill him? Well, the best thing to do was to get the Mob, because the Mob owned all the casinos in Havana. The Mob was very upset at losing, to Castro, a great source of revenue. So, this has all been published. John Gianconni was working secretly to try and do in Castro, unsuccessfully.
JB: You say it "jee-an-conna", or "john-conna"?
Well, in Italian it's "john-conna". I hear other variations of it, but the correct thing is "john-conna".
GV: And, um, that didn't work. And then, now, unknown to Gianconni -- this was one of the ironies -- Kennedy is not only having an affair with his girlfriend, with Gianconni's girlfriend, but was getting money ... thanks to his father's connection with Frank Costello, money is coming into the Kennedy campaign, particularly for the West Virginia primary. This was the greatest kept secret of all time, at that time. Now, you ask about the assassination. I don't know any more about it than anybody else, but (a) it's agreed that it was a conspiracy, certainly; again, who benefits? Who would want to kill Jack? One of the conditions of the Mob, when they gave money to Kennedy, thanks to their relationship with his father, was "Leave us alone. J. Edgar Hoover never bothered us, the Justice Department never goes near organized crime. We don't bother you, you don't bother us." It was a truce. Bobby just got overambitious, in the Kennedy manner, and decided that he was going to be a White Knight and he was going to go after organized crime. If you remember, around '61 or '62, the Appalachian meeting in New York, where the various Mob leaders got together. And, Bobby got in on the act, and some of them got indicted. The Mob did not take well to this ... "What are you doing to us? We gave you this money ..." and so forth, and so on ... "and now you're going after us!" Joe Kennedy is alleged to have said, "Well, you know my boys are giant-killers, dragon-killers, and they've got to have dragons to kill." This was their death warrant. So there's a conversation which has been recorded, and much published, between one of the mobsters, a guy called Trafficanti, and Marcello, who was the head of the Louisiana Mob, which in turn were involved with the casinos in Havana, which was nearby. And they were swearing at Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General, for going after them, and they were talking about killing him. And Marcello says, "If a dog is bothering you, you don't cut off the tail." So, "you kill the President" was the meaning of that. I assume the mob knows, Oswald, whatever -- how it was done. But it was done. And, one of the reasons -- this hasn't come out -- yet, it's only been alluded to -- For the '64 election, they wanted to get rid of Johnson, the vice president. For a lot of reasons. Bobby particularly hated him. And Johnson was unsavory in many ways, but he was terrified of the Kennedys. He knew of their Mob connection. He thought they might kill him. And he knew they wanted him off the ticket. So he's sitting there, very jittery, Why on earth would ... They wanted to get rid of him. The plan was never, I don't think the family ever agreed on it, before Dallas; after Dallas, of course, it didn't exist. They wanted a Kennedy - Kennedy ticket, with Bobby Kennedy the slayer of the Mafia in the United States, as the crime killer, and Jack the hero of the Western world. And that would have been hubris beyond belief, two brothers running for President and Vice President. That was in the air. I have a hunch they would not have gone through with it, because not even the Kennedys could have pulled that one off. But all this is the atmosphere pre- Dallas, and then of course Hubris and Nemesis arrived.
JB: So let's look at the more general question about power. You've written a lot about it, all these characters in your novels, and certainly power is at the bottom. Are we learning anything, or is just humankind perpetually going around in circles?
GV: Well, I don't think there's any upward route to be detected in the human race, it seems to be more of the same, with lucky accidents and unlucky accidents. The desire for power is a perfectly natural one, and it's because every human being, no matter what his background, has been powerless. Because he was a baby, and I suspect if you went into the psyche of Alexander the Great, or Jack Kennedy, or anybody, Herbert Hoover (laughs), you would find out there was something in childhood powerlessness that he said to himself "Never again am I going to be at the mercy of other people. Therefore, let them be at my mercy", or however he would translate it into his head. There's nothing wrong with wanting power; it is to what end you want it, and how wise you are in the use of it. and how much you -- I was going to say, you know yourself -- but nobody seems to do that -- how much you know what the world is that you would like to dominate, and what you might do about it, and how would you be of any use, other than the pleasures of winning. The Kennedys never got beyond the pleasures of winning, they were blank, as Teddy Kennedy revealed to Roger Mudd ... "Why do you want to be President?" (imitates Teddy Kennedy's voice:) "Ah, well, ah, hmm, yeah, uh, ..." No answer. No answer. He didn't think there needed to be one, I suppose.
JB: So there was a real empty quality here, which stands in the minds of the American people as a great icon of elegance, and grace, and youthful vitality. And what you're really saying is behind all that, is emptiness. It reminds me of a -- there's a MacLeash poem, I can't remember, it's like a circus tent, and something about, he looks up at the end of the poem and "there, there, nothing at all" ...
GV: There was even a better MacLeash line, "A poem should not mean, but be." They didn't mean anything, they just were. But that's true of power in a country like this. It used to be that the great powers in the nation would choose a President for us, or see to it that we re-elected one, who not only served their interests, but would also be a dignified Chief Executive. They were respectful of the Constitution, and of the division of power. Then when you see, it really got bad under Nixon, he would keep sending these names to the Senate for the Supreme Court, each one more ludicrous than the one before, each more insulting, with Bush finally with Clarence Thomas, it's just stunning, the contempt for the Supreme Court, means you have total contempt for the Constitution of the United States. It means you don't care about the country. They now have just made it very clear, they don't care. They care about the people who give them the money to run, whether it is Bob Dole, "Character, that's what it's about. America. Bob Dole." It's all he says, then cigarettes suddenly come up, and now we know that cigarettes are very serious to him.
JB: Okay, now, if these people are as pathetic as you're indicating, is it just the nature of mass behavior? This is information or knowledge that can't be communicated beyond a relatively small class of people? I mean, that's a very aristocratic perspective, and I would like to believe, and I'm hoping, you're going to be able to find, somewhere in your long experience, that yes, the people can form a judgment, and therefore democracy can function, and it isn't all just as the fellow from Baltimore said, "Boobus Americanus".
Well, it's more ... it's not aristocratic, I mean, this is a case that everybody who cares about the country, wants everybody to have all the facts. Jefferson said, if I had to choose between newspapers -- good newspapers -- and no government, I'd take the papers: the people at least would be informed. We give a hollow laugh at that today. The point is, information -- people who might say things, of the sort that you and I have been chatting about, are never going to be let on prime time in America. I have here in my hand -- to say more about television. I got a letter from a Mark Halprin, Producer, ABC News Special Events, just a few days ago. The background is, in 1968 I did a number of debates with William F. Buckley Jr., at the two conventions. He's been asked back every time; I have never been asked back by ABC or prime time for the election. Now he says, he's writing to my agent, "As you know, Mr. Vidal served as a commentator, along with William F. Buckley", etc., etc., "We would like to interview Mr. Vidal about his experiences in the 1968 Democratic Convention, about the distance and direction both he and this country have traveled, ", and so forth and so on. "We'd like to do an on-camera interview at Mr. Vidal's convenience, " this was around June 7. Now there's a desperate letter of June 25 to my agent, where he says "Lucky for me, you are in the right business to understand this, (being an agent). "They suddenly installed a new Executive Producer who has changed our plans. Before I had even contacted Mr. Vidal to arrange the interview with him that you and I had discussed, the segment was put on hold." Okay, now here it is, how the country is run. I'm not going to ... Peter Jennings has tried to get me on, because Buckley and I made ABC number one for the first time on prime time. Jennings tries to be (fooling), we have a running gag about it, you know, I say "What did they say this time?" They said, "Oh, he'll just be outrageous." And Jennings said "Could you give me an example?" "Oh no, you know, 'outrageous'." It's because real subjects might come up! Such as, who got what money for what. Which is something you should talk about in politics, because then you understand why the politician supports what he does. But if you can't talk about it, you don't know. So what do you get? You get the fetus, the flag, are cigarettes good for you. You get subjects which are of no national interest. They may be of personal interest to people, or religious interest, but the government is about who collects what money for whom.
JB: You notice recently, I've noticed this in the papers, in fact I cut them out because I find it so bizarre, Bill Clinton has talked about three subjects recently. One, he's called for school uniforms for grammar school children; he's provided last week a $10 million grant for truancy -- that matters, to try to keep kids in school; and third, he's done something or other about curfew. All three of which, small towns, perhaps, ought to take some interest in, at best, other than the parents and the local neighborhood, and yet this is material that is picked up in the mainstream media and printed by the Associated Press all over America, and not laughed off the page.
GV: No, and it's also not a federal matter. Nobody's pointed that out. The President is not in a position to say that a high school in Glendale, the students must have uniforms, or there must be a curfew. He can't say it. He has no executive power to do this. This is the Tenth Amendment, it's left to the states.
JB: So the media is -- I understand why he's doing it, he needs to prop up his moral aura ... school uniforms betoken conservatism, it doesn't irritate anybody, so it's a freebie, and the press disseminates it. So what you really get is not discussion, you get images and moods, that are transmitted electronically into the brains of the people, and then that reacts, showing up in polls and ultimately elections. Now that cannot be described as a free society, governed by democratic discussion.
GV: No, it's not a free society. And if I were an ambitious Republican politician, I would just quote the President on this, you would hear his voice, and over his voice would be the Hitler youth marching in their uniforms. This is totalitarian. This is the intrusion of the government into everybody's life. It tells us that we can't smoke marijuana. Why not? It's none of their business. Cigarettes they're bearing down on. They banned alcohol in 1919, gave us the worst crime wave we've ever had, until now. What is government doing in all these things?
JB: Well, you know, the Unabomber had a very important point to make, in his treatise -- which, of course, no one talked about. They just talked about him, and how he was caught, and how he lived, and the vegetables he grew, and his rabbit or something. He talked about the fact that people were becoming domestic animals. And he said that's the most important issue in America today, the fact that the American people are being rendered into the status of domestic animals. And there is nobody who is even contesting that issue. That's the Unabomber.
GV: Yes. And he's quite right. Those guys who went off to Michigan, I mean, they didn't go off to commit crimes, as far as I can tell. They went away to get away from the FBI. The laws of the land that they didn't like -- and there are more and more laws that people don't like. The government is on top of everybody. Their sex lives, their intake of this or that, files on anybody who wants to be a janitor, at the Washington Monument. Why do we allow this? We allow it -- it really starts with Harry Truman, to go back to the National Security State. People got used to being -- I like that phrase, "domestic animals", of the Unabomber. They are domestic animals. Animal Farm, we might call the United States now. I don't know anybody that I come across, from one end of the country to the other, who likes the way the place is run. Whether they're conservative, whether they're liberal, bomb throwers, quiet old ladies. Nobody likes the people in politics. Nobody likes Congress. Nobody likes the press, which sometimes gives the bad news, but generally gives the news that the ownership wants you to know. Now, when you finally get people so fed up, something's going to break. And I more and more, as I see all these prisons going up, and everybody being sent off to prison, with three strikes and so on, they are preparing, really, for a showdown with the American people. They're already talking about using for minor drug offenders the old Army camps that are being shut down. To pen them in. More animal farming. The animals are going to turn one day and bite. And even now, perhaps, as we are chatting, there is some young boy or girl who will grow up and overthrow this government. Because it has overthrown our old republic; it seems to be doing its best to overthrow our Bill of Rights and the Constitution ...
JB: Well, tell me a little bit from the Italian perspective. There you had some powerful parties disintegrate. You had this - - I remember the man who is now on trial, who was the Prime Minister many times ...
GV: Andreotti ...
JB: Andreotti. I remember going and visiting Mother Teresa at the Vatican, and I remember the Pope coming in, and Mother Teresa being there, and there Androtti -- was right there -- in his blue suit, and he was very centrally located in this little plaza, a little outdoor spot, next to the Vatican, where Mother Teresa had opened some facility for the homeless, or whatever it was. He was there, it was the dedication. And now, he's on trial, that whole Christian Democratic Party business, and before that there was all this stuff about the Masons, and P2. Does that shed any light on some of the things we're talking about? Maybe, what could happen here? Because those -- that party structure, after all, did fall.
GV: Well, that was all an aberration, because we gave them a constitution after Mussolini in 1945, so that they could never have a dictatorship again, nor could they have really a democratic government. But we were imitating the founding fathers of the United States, who feared two things: dictatorship, and democracy. And our Constitution was so carefully designed that we will never have either one. So now we have this funny mess of a National Security State, which does tap our phones, keep track of us, keep files on us. And how will it end?
JB: How will it end? Well, it seems to me that if the Conservative Party in Canada collapsed, if the Christian Democratic Party in Italy collapsed, if the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan collapsed, there may be some hope for the United States.
GV: And it may well be, that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have collapsed already, and nobody knows it, because the press won't tell us.
JB: You're listening to We The People. I'm talking to Gore Vidal, we'll be right back.
JB: You're back with We The People. Remember the number is 800- 426-1112. Write it down, we depend on your interest and your support, and the way you take the first step is to call 800-426- 1112. I'm talking to Gore Vidal, author of over 22 books, a candidate for both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate here in California in 1982, as well as a person who has had contact with many of the personalities and celebrities of the last 30 or 40 years. I bring up the Italian case because in fact, what looked pretty solid, fell apart. Now, maybe that's just the way that system is organized. Our parties seem well in place, I mean, the Republican, Democrat -- people, you say, are tired of them, but somehow 80% of the people fall into line and go for either one. But that doesn't mean that has to go on forever.
GV: No, and they don't have an alternative. I was a co- chairman of the People's Party with Dr. Spock, in 1968-72. Just try and start a third party here! There are several of them at this very moment, third, fourth and fifth parties. Everything is done to keep it impossible. Italy after the war, as our ward, was given proportional representation, which meant that any small group of people who got together and called themselves a party might end up with a couple of seats in Parliament. So they had so many parties that you had to put together these curious coalitions -- and Israel is having the same problems today. You put together these weird coalitions of people who don't get along, and you end up with no government, which for the Italians is brilliant. I've always said the genius of the American system is the separation of state from church. The genius of the Italian system is the separation of state from people. The Italians pay no attention to their government. The government has the big cars, and the big ministries, and the ministers are allowed to steal as much as they can get away with. And the people are left alone. They don't bother to pay taxes, or very seldom. And it's enormously prosperous. Suddenly everything started to fall apart, and the old Democratic Christian party, which was -- you speak of Andriotti, seven times Prime Minister, he goes back to the end of the war -- and he is now charged with a murder rap. Because he was not only the Pope's man, in government, head of the Democratic Christian party, he was also the Mafia's man. Now he has conscience, and he's very intellectual -- he's a brilliant man -- terribly, terribly sly -- but I don't know how in his heart he handles the two, but then this is the country that produced Machiavelli. Now it's a little more open, and more interesting people are emerging. But every country is owned by a ruling class. And the ruling class there are the Anellis, who own Fiat, and there are about ten big families, and they own most of the country, and in the long run what they want is what the country will get. They didn't take government too seriously until a number of shocks began to happen, the biggest being that they were no longer a principal American military base. We're still there, we've got about six bases, but with the fall of the Satanic Soviet Union, they no longer had any meaning.
JB: When you talk about a ruling class, I wonder, in the United States, what kind of a ruling class there really is, because you have the stateless money, these corporate structures, that give a bureaucratic mind that looks at how to increase the return on investment. That could be anybody. Does that translate into a ruling class in any traditional sense of the word?
GV: Of course it does. We've got one of the cleverest in the world. It's so clever nobody knows it's there. But it's something like 1% have most of the wealth of the country, about 20% are doing very well, and 80% are not doing so well. The actual -- I would say there are a dozen families, like the Rockefellers, and the Mellons, and then the McHughs, the DuPonts, they've been in business a long, long time. The argument that you will get from professional liberals like Arthur Schlesinger is "Well, no DuPont has run DuPont in all these years." Well, I actually had dinner at Nelson Rockefeller's house, and I can tell you, he didn't cook the dinner. Isn't that strange, you know? You hire people to run this country, these companies, and you also hire the Congresses and indeed, finally the President. So there they are. Now, between the 1% there's the 19% that are doing very well. And that's the sort of -- at one level, it's the mandarin political class, to which you belong, and I belong and we're hereditary, that's a kind of patrician, which may be against the rulers, or it may be for the rulers, but kept on a short leash. A very short leash. And then under that are the people who control opinion. These are the colleges, the universities. Think why all of those -- the Harkness Plan at Exeter where I went to school, why all these rich people gave so much money to schools? We always thought, oh, so sentimental, they remembered their days of playing soccer on the greensward -- not at all! They want to control the teaching of American history. And of course they own the newspapers. So, it's not a conspiracy, because they all think alike. They all go to the same prep schools, they go to the same colleges, they see each other, same boards of directors, same clubs. And they stay out of the news. Now the thing tore apart when Nelson Rockefeller got the Presidential bug. Rockefellers are not supposed to run for President! You buy the Presidents! And on short term. You don't do it yourself. And it's embarassing. The family was upset. In the case of Winthrop, his brother, who was having trouble -- he was having trouble with women, and ... alcohol ... he just wouldn't shape up, so they bought him West Virginia. It came pretty cheap, the state, and ...
JB: You mean Arkansas. The other one ran in West Virginia, Jay was in West Virginia, and Winthrop ...
GV: Yes, Winthrop got Arkansas. An even cheaper state, actually, than West Virginia to buy. And he turned out to be a pretty good governor. Arkansas was happy, and he shaped up, stopped drinking, and it was very good for both of them. But by and large, the ownership stays out of it. In recent years, and it may be a sign of -- you used Henry Adams' words "the degradation of democracy" -- that the rich, instead of playing polo, and having yachts, are taking seats in the Senate. You have Heinz, in Pennsylvania, you're getting all sorts of members of these great ruling class families, are bored, and they think the Senate might be fun. I remember Jim Abaresque of South Dakota, a poor boy Senator, he told me, he was sitting in a boring committee meeting with John Heinz of the 57 Varieties, who had spent $7 million -- at that moment, it was the highest amount anybody had ever spent for a Senate seat -- he said, "Why on earth did you spend all that money to sit here, and we're bored to death, the two of us?" he said. "I'm poor, I had no place to go." And Heinz said, "Jim, you don't understand. It was just play money." (laughs) Monopoly.
JB: It's play money, and I guess it works for awhile. But as in the Winter Palace in 1917 in Russia, things collapse. Can you judge where we are on that continuum between complacency and arrogance that works, and then when it becomes so out of phase with where people are and what they're feeling and a sense of indignation and justice that shows up with some historical regularity?
GV: Well, I think it will be almost like Russia, you know, the Winter Palace would not have been stormed and the Communists would not have come in, the Bolsheviks, had it not been for the disasters -- external disasters like World War I. Well I think in our case it's going to be the rise of China as the great power, which is I think inexorable in the coming century, and the United States will just be poorer and poorer. And as we begin to descend the economic scale, ending up probably somewhere between Argentina and Brazil, then you'll see all sorts of Brazilian or Argentinian style politics here. There's a strong fascist tendency in the United States, always has been. And it doesn't take much to activate it. And constantly scapegoating. "Oh, it's the fault of the blacks, the boat people, the this, the that ..." There's always a group that's being Satanized, so they always have somebody to blame. And it's very easy, when there are no jobs, and there's not much hope. This couple was asked the other day, I saw on television, a middle aged couple, and they said, "Oh, yes, there are plenty of jobs. My husband and I, we have four of them. But we don't have as much income as we had 20 years ago, when just he worked."
JB: You know, I was thinking what -- in Guatemala, and in El Salvador, both client states. El Salvador got several billion, Guatemala got a steady, small flow of money, but right to the Security Services -- In those two countries, nuns, labor leaders, cooperatives, people founding co-ops of one kind or another, kindergarten teachers, were assassinated because the ruling people felt a threat. And I'm trying to understand, okay, that's within the sphere of influence of the United States, highly connected to our intelligence agencies, therefore they know about it, therefore it's not something that's offensive to the powers that be -- In this country, dissent is allowed. Now I want to try this hypothesis: do you think it's because the dissent has no impact? Is it because it's just like a bubble, it's there, there's a Jesse Jackson, there's I don't know who, there's people out there on the left and on the right, but they don't seem to alter anything, and therefore it's kind of harmless, a very minor diversion from the general thrust of where things are going. But if it were ever to be that there was an actual threat, to the ruling class or to the organization of power, as it exists today, why would there be different treatment for Americans than are given to Guatemalans or El Salvadorans under the watchful eye of the leadership of this country?
GV: Well, within the country, our rulers have figured out that you can write anything you want for The Nation, circulation maybe 100,000, you can talk on alternative radio programs, there's some TV that's accessible, but no one who has anything really vital to say about how the country is governed -- and can name names -- is ever going to be publicized. He'll be made a fool of. You went through your "Governor Moonbeam" period, when you were trying to say some interesting things about the state of the Union ... You're either demonized, or you're ignored, or you're trivialized. That's why I read this thing from ABC television. I can promise you I couldn't change the country, but let's say for 6 months I had half an hour every evening on television to talk about what I wanted to do, well-researched and proving my points, They wouldn't recover from it, because they'd be so busy trying to pick up the pieces, or trying to silence this voice. No one has anything to say. That zoo on Sunday out of Washington, is the most embarassing thing I've ever seen. Michael Kinsey, "on the left"... I keep saying, left of what??? and Pat Buchanan, "on the right", ... They're idiotic, and they're just buffoons. Not they themselves personally, some of them are -- Kinsey is rather bright -- but they're there to make you think that there's dissent. And all it really is, "Is the new Secretary of Agriculture too closely tied to the Tyson chicken business?" Boy, is that riveting. But not one word about the $300 billion we waste on procurement at the Pentagon. That's a non-subject, because too many of the sponsors are involved in that. No, we have dissent here because there's so much of it it doesn't matter. It's drowned out. And it never will get on prime time. Down there among our wards in Latin America, we've always ruled through thugs. We just kill people, ... I was there when Arbentz was overthrown.
JB: You were actually there in '54?
GV: Yes, I had a house there, in 1949. And I knew Aravello, who was a freely elected president, before Arbentz. Arrevelo served his term, Arbentz was elected in a free election. They expropriated some land of the United Fruit Company, which United Fruit wasn't using, to give to people. They paid United Fruit for it. They did have a sense of humor, (laughs): they paid United Fruit the price that United Fruit said the land was worth, which was ludicrous, but they walked into that one. Suddenly we start hearing noises in Washington that Arbentz is a Communist. He wasn't a Communist. Actually, the person he was trying to emulate was Franklin Roosevelt. He wanted a New Deal for Guatemala. Then suddenly Henry Cabot Lodge, senator from Massachusetts, gets up in the Senate and says "This is a Communist regime, it must be stopped," and he gets to his friend Eisenhower and Allen Dulles of the CIA, and Arbentz is overthrown by the CIA. They actually brought in airplanes and so on, and drove him out. Henry Cabot Lodge forgot to mention that he was a director of the United Fruit Company! And no newspaper mentioned why he was so urgent on the subject.
JB: Didn't the Dulles brothers have a legal connection to some of the law firms that represented United Fruit?
GV: Oh, they were totally involved with it. In fact I think United Fruit at one point -- their headquarters was officially New Orleans, but I think Massachusetts was back of it ...
JB: But they had some Wall Street, big fancy law firms, and Secretary of State Dulles was a lawyer, and he was in one of those big law firms, and I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that his law firm had legal business with them.
GV: And the Secretary of State's brother was the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, and there's Henry Cabot Lodge. Three men forced the President -- Eisenhower -- to overthrow a duly- elected democratic president of Guatemala. And there's been a bloodbath ever since, for which we are responsible.
JB: And very little discussion. No apology by Clinton, no acknowledgment by Bush, even Jimmy Carter in his human rights discussions at the Carter Center isn't really highlighting the massacre that goes on.
GV: He doesn't know it. Or if he does know it he doesn't know how to present it.
JB: Okay, so we've got just a couple minutes left, I want to ask this question. Having heard all this, now, what's your feeling about a common life together? Are you cynical? Does it give you joy? I want something out of your soul here, that is human and ... maybe not positive, but just, what do you say in the face of all this?
GV: Well, I say that eternity is a very long time, if it could be called time, and that the human race is just a passing fancy. We were preceded by viruses, it looks like the viruses will probably kill us all. Bacteria of some kind -- they have long, long lives, along with cockroaches, and ... I was never one to take the idea of the human race at all seriously. To me we're just another form of rather chattering monkeys. I don't believe in afterlife, but that's why I believe all the more deeply in this life, being the one thing that we can fix. And why I am in a state of continuous high blood pressure, outrage, at how badly we screw everything up in the United States, which is basically the most blessed of countries -- Native Americans to one side, -- but it was a fairly empty place for a lot of Europeans and Asians to come to -- How we could have come to this, all because of the theater of something called the Cold War and the profits they have made, the Defense industry, is a tragedy that I have lived through in my life. I have seen -- I saw the High Noon. I got out of the Army in 1946, I was in the Pacific, I remember '45 as the moment when we were the great and first global empire, and we were absolutely unbeatable: the greatest economy, and here we sit 50 years later, and look at us. All I hope is that something will happen that will change it for the better, and that is somebody who is maybe listening to us now.
JB: Well, of course, there has to be a possibility of change, and it's been going on a long time. There are ups and downs, you've heard a little bit of the down, maybe more than you wanted to hear (laughs), but there's also an Up out there, and those of you listening, take it into your heart, think about it, reflect on it. Gore Vidal, thank you very much, a very fascinating hour.
GV: Thank you.
JB: And thank you, all the rest of you who have made this work. I'm looking at a whole battery of people down here at KPFK in Los Angeles, and those of you in KPFA. Thank you very much, we'll be with you tomorrow. This is Jerry Brown for We The People.