Monday, April 25, 2016

Why I hate the purists (Or: The night I mooched a meal from Gore Vidal)

It's obvious that Bern-v-Hill is THE THE THE ONLY thing that my readers want to talk about right now. I thought that my last post -- about a secret base in the California desert -- was ground-breaking and interesting. But nobody cares about that stuff.

For some reason, this blog has attracted many Bernie-or-bust sickos (of the sort profiled in this excellent LAT piece) -- even though I've tried to chase 'em off, and even though I've made it quite clear that their obnoxious zealotry is what transformed this tentative Sanders fan into a die-hard Despiser of Da Bern.

(By the way: That anti-Clinton comment you're dying to write right now? I still won't publish it.)

I've decided to take on the Bernie cultists in a roundabout fashion, by republishing a Cannonfire classic from 2007. Below the asterisks, you'll find what I consider one of my more amusing pieces -- and it's more germane now than it was then.

This anecdote from the 1980s provides insight into the current Democratic race. More than that: It offers insight into other occasions when "progressive purists" hurt the cause of liberalism -- as occurred, for instance, in the year 2000.

Remember? That's when Nader voters foisted Dubya on us, because they considered Al Gore to be soooooo freakin' intolerable. And what, exactly, made Gore intolerable? Because....reasons. Reasons that nobody now remembers.

2000 wasn't the first time. Believe it or not, back in 1982, all good progs once thought of Jerry Brown (yes, Jerry freakin' Brown) the same way progs thought about Gore in 2000 -- the same way they now think about Hillary. California "progressives" -- not the Republicans: Progressives -- crippled the career of Jerry Brown, a man who should have been president. Thanks to the muthafuckin' progs, he had to rebuild his political career from the ground up.

I'll prove it to you. Let's turn back the clock...

* * *

I have two Gore Vidal stories. The second one involves the JFK assassination. The first may interest readers curious to learn why I get so pluperfectly pissed off at the "progressive purists."

If you want to see what my mug looks like -- or looked like, back in the days of the 30 inch waistline and the full head of hair -- rent a film called Gore Vidal: The Man Who Said No, which details Vidal's 1982 primary campaign against then-Governor Jerry Brown to become the Democratic nominee for Senator, a position won in the general by Pete Wilson.

The film's funniest moment comes during the one public confrontation between Gore Vidal and Jerry Brown. Noting that both men are confirmed bachelors, Vidal announces: "As far as the public is concerned, we are both virgins. May the most immaculate one win!" That "exploding cigar" look on Jerry's face is priceless.

Toward the end of the movie, I can be seen wearing a white sweater, staring hard at the candidate as the returns show him trailing third behind an unknown from Orange County. (Our Boy eventually made a triumphant surge into second place.) Most viewers probably take me to be Vidal's catamite. Actually, I was studying his face for any trace of emotion. He had spent a lot of money to achieve this failure, and I wondered if he would react to loss the way everyone in my Eye-talian family always reacted to loss: Tossing plates of spaghetti, threatening murder, threatening suicide, that sort of thing.

But...nothing. Not an eye-muscle twitched. Gore Vidal came from a very different sort of family.

How did I end up in Vidal's campaign headquarters that evening? A friend named Bob (now a movie critic) worked on the campaign, and I had spent an evening helping him do what he was pleased to call "opposition research." We visited the microfilm room at UCLA and looked through old newspaper accounts of Governor Brown's speeches. "This is GOLD!" Bob would shout every few seconds. (He was very excitable.) "This will DESTROY Jerry Brown!"

"No it won't," I would snarl. "Nobody cares about that shit."

Nobody did. But Bob didn't want to hear it, so after about half an hour of increasingly surly banter I decided that my time would be more profitably spent studying editions of the London Times from the 18th century. The criticism of George III was surprisingly candid.

CUT TO: Election night.

I was coming home by bus after my second day on a new job. I had not eaten in a while, had no food in the house, and would have no cash to purchase food until the first paycheck arrived. What to do? As the bus passed the palatial Vidal campaign headquarters on Ventura Boulevard, I realized that good old Gore had probably provided some "farewell party" grub for the folks who had toiled on his behalf.

Well. Hadn't I given the man a half-hour of my time?

Sport that he was, Vidal had purchased plain-wrap beer and cookies, which all of the Gore-ites disdained. That stuff was ambrosia.

Everyone took me to be a campaign worker and a Vidal insider, and they all listened with respect to my views on The Issues of the Day. Then the cameras showed up. Never miss an opportunity to appear on television, as the man himself once said.

After that came a Cannon tradition: Inadvertently insulting the host of a party. One must perform certain rituals. I will not tell you what I said, mostly because the words are blocked from memory, but lemme tell ya -- that "exploding cigar" look on Gore's face was priceless.

After Vidal trudged home, presumably to take solace in the arms of his real catamite, his loyal workers went out to Denny's. I tagged along and was even staked to a patty melt -- that week's only meal fit for a carnivore.

The fellow who ran Vidal's campaign was very bright and witty, but he was addicted to automatic gainsaying: If anyone said "A," he felt compelled to say "Not A," just to show who's boss. If ever you run into a guy with that sort of addiction, do not miss the opportunity to fuck with his mind. By evening's end, I had manipulated Mr. Automatic Gainsayer into announcing to the assembled company that Hitler had a perfect right to invade Czechoslovakia, that a pound of butter was less fattening than a carrot, and that the Montana state legislature had been taken over by flying saucer people. (Okay, this account is an exaggeration, but not by much.)

Thus ended an evening with the progressive purists. I went home feeling dirty. Full, thank you very much, but dirty.

I felt bad not just because I had tweaked the noses of good people who had put food in my belly. Sure, there was guilt in that, but when you grow up Eye-talian, you expect a certain background level of guilt. The most depressing part of the day occurred earlier, when I voted for Gore Vidal.

That vote should have gone to Jerry Brown.

Throughout that evening, everyone around me had shouted that Jerry Brown was a corporate shill, a sellout, a reactionary, a hack who made Ronald Reagan look like Emma Goldman. That night, the walls of Denny's had resounded with a hundred variations on the Standard Issue Both Parties Are the Same lecture (also known as the SIBPATS lecture).

Bullshit. All of it.

Sure, Brown often had to compromise, as he now freely admits. He had inspired an excellent film from 1972 called The Candidate, which chronicles a crusading idealist's segue into mere politician-hood. But by modern standards, Jerry Brown remained far closer to the crusader ideal than most today would think possible. California was then a rather conservative state, and Brown was the most liberal governor we have ever had. He opposed the death penalty when the citizenry clamored for it. He opposed Proposition 13 even after everyone understood that the thing would pass handily. He called corporate America an "out of control Frankenstein." He nominated incredibly liberal judges.

He also made the state work. California was prosperous. Economic downturns that hit the rest of the country hard barely touched us.

Could Gore Vidal, who endlessly sniped at Brown's fine record, have done a better job in the Governor's chair? Tosh. Would Brown have made a good Senator? You bet.

I still don't know why Vidal ran in that primary. He reacted with disdain whenever anyone suggested that he might try for a seat in the House of Representatives, even though he stood a better chance of winning such a race. Winning doesn't seem to have been his goal. He preferred to travel up and down the state insulting the man certain to be the Democratic Party's nominee -- thereby strengthening the Republican.

Not that Vidal gave a crap about the Democratic Party. People who worked on the campaign assured me that he planned to vote for the Socialist candidate in the general election -- a fact he kept carefully hidden from the Democratic citizens he addressed. No double-dealing there, eh wot?

My friend Bob had recounted many amusing tales from inside the campaign. Most of them had to do with Gore Vidal's reactions to the common folk he encountered. Picture Stewie Griffen or Addison DeWitt coming home after a long day of pretending to be a man of the people. According to Bob, Vidal once entered a campaign strategy meeting with this anouncement: "I've just come back from....Whittier!" He pronounced the name of Nixon's quiet and pleasant home town as though it were a pathogen.

All very humorous. But if Vidal had felt a little less disdain for the people who live in places like Whittier, more of them might have voted for him.

Did Gore Vidal really deserve to be the Democratic nominee? He despised the party, he didn't like the people he wanted to represent, and he found everyone else on the ticket intolerable.

Compare Vidal to Al Franken, another fellow known for offering amusing political commentary on the radio. Franken probably does not speak with private disgust about the people he meets in Lake Wobegon. In fact, I would bet that Franken genuinely enjoys talking to, and listening to, the citizens of his state.

Gore Vidal is a brilliant novelist and essayist. He will be read long after you and I are gone. But that fact doesn't obligate anyone to share his views -- especially these views:
[t]here is only one party in the United States, the Property Party...and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt—until recently... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties."
Many of the progressive purists I met that evening in 1982 probably still agree with this assessment. We must confront a hard question: Have they (we?) accomplished anything worthwhile in the past quarter century? Or have the purists indulged themselves in a 25-year bitch fest?

During that same period, people working within the Republican party structure have accomplished many things in the real world. Many very, very bad things. And we cannot undo those things unless we work within the Democratic party structure -- because in this country, power does not exist outside the major parties.

Vidal's statement seems particularly absurd when one compares the prosperous Clinton years to the war-addled, debt-ridden Bush years. Nevertheless, I am sure that Mr. Automatic Gainsayer could make that very comparison and still deliver his latest variant of the SIBPATS lecture.

If you want to fill my ears with that crap, you had better pick up the check for my patty melt.

(The JFK tale will have to wait for later.)
We could all get what we want if Bernie were to start a #PeoplesPAC. -
Caro -- this is being proposed by Budowsky, not Sanders. It would be great if Sanders were to do something like this, but if he did, he wouldn't be Sanders, and that is his tragedy, and perhaps ours.
Did the JFK story ever get posted?

I agree about politics though. Secret bases infinitely better than Bernary.I'm too much of a purist to care for Bernie anyway, but he's lost. It's done. No more of it.
A very interesting recollection, Joseph! I admit that I did not pay attention to Senatorial race back then--I was ten years old and living on the East Coast--but it's interesting to see how some things have changed and others have not, sadly.

You are right about Vidal--a brilliant writer and essayist, but yes, he clung onto and always repeated the "both parties are the same!" nonsense. Of course, we heard that repeated yet again by St. Ralph in 2000, and even though I could see right through it (and I admit to not being smarter than anyone else--I've just read a couple more books), some friends who were smarter believed it. One even kept referring to the loathsome Alexander Cockburn's book "Al Gore: A User's Guide" to justify his vote for Nader.

(Funny thing about Cockburn's book though--how come he didn't pen a "User's Guide" for Bush?)

"Vidal's statement seems particularly absurd when one compares the prosperous Clinton years to the war-addled, debt-ridden Bush years." ABSOLUTELY! That shambling zombie should have been double-tapped to the head and laid to rest within the first week of Bush's first term, but I still heard purists claiming that Gore was just as bad as or would have been worse than Bush right up to--and after, the Iraq invasion of 2003. And it's risen again with the Bernie-or-Bust crowd, being used as a weapon against Hillary Clinton.

Something to consider (but I have a feeling that you are already aware of this):

The call to a people’s revolution by Bernie Sanders echoes these historic shifts. However when the revolution ignores the oligarchical Republican Party, represented by a candidate that mimics Hitler, another that spouts zealous hatred and a Congress that ignores its Constitutional duty, and instead chooses to target the Democratic Party, then it loses any semblance of legitimacy. (taken from an article on the GO BLINDLY website)

...Some years ago you did mention something along these lines--that the purists will always go after the Democrats first and leave the GOP unmolested. I admit to not believing it at first, but I learned.
Jerry Brown.
The one who said in circa 2011 that Obama should NOT be primaried from the left
from all his broken promises?
Oh, yeah THAT Jerry Brown.
Stephen, here is the piece on Gore Vidal, Clay Shaw, and JFK:

It may be quite relevant to the story told above.
As a reader since 2007 or so, I can honestly say that I don't care to read anything more about Bernie or Hillary. I've had enough. I'll just be glad when it's all over and we can start getting bombarded by propaganda for the NEXT election (there's not really any off time between Presidential election anymore, is there?).

Besides, I knew who the next President would be more than a year ago. We'll see if I was right or not........I don't much care either way, at this point. Maybe I'm just hopelessly cynical, but I suspect nothing much will change no matter who gets elected. That said, I don't believe both parties are the same. I do think the Dems screwed their best chance to strengthen the party by choosing Obama in 2008 though (even if he didn't turn out quite as bad as suspected......close, but not quite).
Gus, I used to think that way until Bush took office and 9/11 happened and he invaded Iraq and dismantled Fema ahead of Katrina and defunded basic research in the universities and so on. Then I realized it does matter who gets elected.

I was living in Chicago when Jerry Brown ran for president, having been a lifelong California resident before that. Brown was seen by IL Democrats as a nutcase from a state that had little in common with the rest of the US. I don't think Californians appreciated how much distrust was aimed at our state and Brown himself. We were viewed much like Portlandia residents and Brown didn't have a chance of winning Democrats nationwide. I think that's sad, but that's how I remember it, and I was a Chicago precinct worker and community activist working inside the machine at the time. Brown's people had no idea how they were being viewed outside their own ranks, much like Bernie's, I suspect.
When can we expect your denouncing and vilifying of the 200,000 registered Florida Democrats that voted for Bush in Florida in 2000?

How did that last comment pass? what is Anon talking about?

1. Some of us did enjoy your last piece, but had no clue how to respond. I especially liked the growing ranch....

2. Gore Vidal has never struck me as "brilliant." Please. He relied on Harper Lee for the only thing I know that he's known for. SHE was brilliant.

3. This is hilarious. Love it, down to the patty melt. I went to some famous joint in Fells Point for a patty melt on my birthday this year. They did not HAVE any, as their GRILL was "broken." Are you fucking kidding me?! I do not give second chances to shoddy joints such as this. And I passed up a $3 dish of corned beef at a political shindig for this nonexistence patty melt as a b-day treat. Which means war.

4. OK, I know I had more points as I read but they all evaporated because ... patty melts!!

Thanks for the history.

Corby - The idea is Brent's, but he's working with people who could make it happen. Brent has been an idea guy for Democrats since he worked for Lloyd Bentsen as a young man.

It could happen.
Having moved to California from the Deep South in 1973, I was excited that I could cast my vote for a liberal democrat. Jerry Brown was an excellent governor then and now. I have never understood why members of his own party railed against him. But I figured it must have been because they probably had not been brought up in an ultraconservative region and so didn't fully understand the difference between progressive and regressive. Politics aside, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventures in Chatsworth park and the high desert. Exploring the desert and surrounding mountains was something our little family thoroughly enjoyed. I won't go into the many unusual adventures we experienced but your write-up on the hidden airfield brought a smile about one of our spookier outings. Since we never followed a planned route, we would end up on some really remote tertiary roads. On one occasion, we rounded a bend in the road that dead-ended at an abandoned airfield. In front of us was one lone rather short airstrip and a wooden building at the far end. No one was in sight and there were no other signs of civilization nearby. Just hills and dirt. The screen door of the abandoned building was swinging and banging shut with the wind. It was eerie to say the least. Although there were no signs of life, I had a chilling feeling that we were being watched. But true to our naive and dumb selves, we drove the length of the runway to the building and went inside. It looked as though it might have been a cafe at one time. I desperately wanted to leave, which we soon did, as I kept expecting a small plane to suddenly descend from the sky and land and then for not very friendly people to emerge from behind the rocks to unload illegal cargo---with us as witnesses. Still gives me the shivers. Thanks for the remembrances. I hope you keep them coming. JL
Wow. JL, that was pretty daring of you guys! Where was that airstrip?

There were a lot of small airstrips constructed out in the desert during and before WWII. Spotting them on Google Earth is kind of fun.

I spent many hours out there at night, basically looking for the fabled white trucks, which I wanted to follow to their hidden destinations. Probably not the best idea...
I think we were in the vicinity of Littlerock, Joseph, which if I'm not mistaken is in the Antelope Valley. I tried to do a Google search for abandoned airfields near there and the closest one appears to Big Rock(!). But after reading a description of Big Rock, it doesn't really sound like the airfield that I remember. But then that was way back when in 1975-76. The most distinguishing features that I recall were the field's small size and its remoteness. There was only one short strip, which I'm pretty sure was paved, if my memory serves me. As I mentioned I would really enjoy reading about more of your SoCal adventures. Did you ever trek up to Panamint? JL

You misunderstand me. I'm not saying it doesn't matter who gets elected, I'm saying that "we the people" are not the ones who decide who gets to be President. It starts with the fact that huge amounts of money are needed to run at all. Then, the media decides who to give free publicity to (probably not totally free, and the media themselves likely are not the deciders but are being directed). Then we have the quite shady caucus process. Then, the even more shady elections, where we all "vote" on electronic voting machines that were easily hack-able and almost totally opaque in their operation back in 2004 and nothing has changed in that regard. It's just gone down the memory hole, but none of the problems were fixed (a paper copy of how you think you voted is useless if they aren't being counted and compared to the digital version). Of course, Florida in 2000 showed us you didn't really need electronic voting to "fix" an election anyway.

So I don't think the American people really play any part in who gets to be President anymore. Probably true for ANY federally "elected" official. As I said, I might be overly cynical. I certainly hope so.
"It's obvious that Bern-v-Hill is THE THE THE ONLY thing that my readers want to talk about right now."

I came here tonight eager most of all to find out whether you'd met Larry "Wild Man" Fischer on Hollywood Boulevard! :)
"...he was addicted to automatic gainsaying: If anyone said 'A,' he felt compelled to say 'Not A,' just to show who's boss."

This is one of the most brilliant lines I've ever read. It describes someone I know to a T. Thanks for putting it into a nutshell. So clarifying.

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