Sunday, October 23, 2011

Anticapitalist rhetoric

Quite a few years ago, together with several other people, I went to dinner in Los Angeles, with Gore Vidal. After a number of other ex cathedra pronouncements that brooked no dissent, Vidal declared that no American corporations paid any taxes--none at all. No one rose to challenge him on this unlikely claim. One can certainly argue--and should argue--that US corporations benefit from many unjustified loopholes and exemptions, especially those secured by lobbyists based on K Street in DC. But they do pay s o m e taxes.

After many years in the wilderness, this kind of anticapitalist rhetoric has resurfaced in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, which I basically support. It is, to be sure, a diverse movement.

Such exaggerations, it seems to me, are not doing the cause any good.

Let us continue a bit more with Gore Vidal, who elicits a degree of sustained enthusiasm from the US Left that does not cease to baffle me.

There is the matter of the Gorester's wierd infatuation with the mass murderer Timothy McVeigh, whom Vidal terms a "sane" and "noble" man. (I derive the following comments from an interview published on October 7, 2009 in a British newspaper, The Independent, by Johann Hari, who is generally sympathetic to the American magus.)

Here is the background, On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh planted a massive truck bomb outside a government building in Oklahoma City. In the explosion some 168 people died, including a kindergarten full of children. After he was apprehended, McVeigh wrote to Vidal, saying he had been inspired, in part, by studying the writer's work.

He held that the US Constitution had been usurped by a National Security State that had to be opposed by force. Vidal wrote back and they became pen pals. Increasingly drawn into the scam, Vidal began to mount passionate defenses of the bomber, maintaining that he was not crazy, but "too sane for his place and time."

"He was a dedicated student of the American way, of the Constitution itself," he asserted. "You should read his writings--they're very good. Particularly on the Posse Comitatus Act of 1876, which forbids the Federal government ever to use its troops against the American people – but which they proceeded to do at Waco [a compound used by a religious cult that was attacked by federal troops in 1993]. They killed more people than he managed to kill when he blew up that building in Oklahoma City. He was a noble boy."

At this point Hari, the interviewer, balked. How could one describe as noble the man who consorted with far-right militia groups, and proceeded to blow up all those children? Vidal scowled, almost hissing: "He didn't kill them deliberately! But the American government killed all those people at Waco, men, women and children deliberately! It was his gesture against the government he loathed. You know, he swore to me he had no idea there were children there. He said 'How would I know? I walked by the place once and I knew that there was some kind of dining room, families might be there, or they might not be there. . . He was trying to deliver a message to the government: "look, you have done this arbitrarily, contrary to the Posse Comitatus Act, contrary to American law, you've killed American citizens.' Remember, he was an army boy, and he loved it, and he was longing to get back in the army and the army was longing to get him back; he was the best sharpshooter they'd seen in years. But it was not meant to be."

Hari protested: he must have known he would kill scores of innocent people. Didn't that show a callous disregard for human life? "So did Patton, so did Eisenhower!" Vidal riposted angrily. "Everybody's rather careless about it once you start getting involved in wars. He saw this as a war to preserve the Constitution! You know what he said? But you don't, so I'm going to tell you. The judge [at his trial] quite liked him, and he was intrigued by the fact that this rather talkative kid who wrote tons of pieces for the press had not defended himself. So he said – Mr McVeigh, could we hear more from you? [McVeigh] said, 'Well, your honor, I will base my case on Justice Brandeis, one of our most brilliant jurists, in his opinion in Olmstead. There, he writes that when government ceases to lead by example and actually provides a bad example, anything can happen. Government is the last teacher. Everything I did, I learned from my government.'"

Vidal's position is patently monstrous. Apart from the overall wrongheadedness, there is also a characteristic error. The Waco assault killed 76 people--bad enough, but certainly not more than the 168 who are known to have died in Oklahoma City.



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