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Thu Nov 15, 2018, 04:03 AM

Best of Enemies Gore Vidal vs William F Buckley Jr on Netflix

I thought it was well done and held my interest.

The last quarter is arresting.

I was surprised to learn that Vidal had never gone to college but went into the army instead. He showed enormous courage in a sexually repressed era and one that enshrined homophobic. Vidal's simple statement that homosexuality is as normal as heterosexuality is 5 decades ahead of its time.

There are many paradoxes revealed. Vidal is the epitome of the self made man who doesn't go to college but rises to become one of the most important writers of his time.

Both ran for office and failed. Both despised Robert Kennedy. Both pursued philosophical arguments but were imprisoned by their personal ambitions. And both were obsessed with each other.

Pause here if you don't want to read any "spoilers" and watch the documentary "fresh"

spoilers bridge

continue below

The key point of the debates is when Vidal and Buckley are in a heated point and Vidal refers to Buckley as a "crypto Nazi" and Buckley takes it personally, loses his cool and in overacting displays an unmasked level of hatred.

This of course reveals a betrayal of the essence of Buckley's Roman Catholicism and the essential teachings of Christianity and you can tell that it affects Buckley and continues to haunt him 30 years later.

I had a somewhat similar encounter with a Holocaust survivor who called me a Nazi when I was in my mid 20s and we were having a serious meltdown in our refugee medical screening division in Bangkok and it had become so serious as to threaten our success. The head of the mission had me do a review of the operation which was headed by his close friend who was a survivor at Auschwitz who had become a medical doctor and worked for our organization for decades.

I interviewed key staff and followed the handling of documents. It was completely inefficient and workers were working18 hours a day. I had nurses break down and cry in the interview because they were at the breaking point.

When I gave my report to the Head of Mission and the Chief Medical Officer the latter listened to me and when I finished he said "you remind me of the little Nazi underlings who use efficiency to destroy the soul". Which given the fact that he was a Holocaust Survivor in an organization dedicated for refugees should have been a devastating argument.

I laughed and looked him in the eye and said "That is a great line, how many times have you used to win bureaucratic arguments in the last 30 years ?" (they were both in their 70s). They looked at each other and both laughed because they knew it was true.

I didn't take it personally because I knew it wasn't true. I turned to the doctor and told him that I was actually his best friend. I had proof that he was in fact running a mid sized hospital and that 80% of his time wasn't doing medicine but doing administrative and even low level clerical duties and what we needed to do is to hire an experienced hospital administrator that could help run a bureaucracy to screen up to 800 people a day. He saw my point and that's what we did.

That Buckley couldn't laugh off such an outrageous claim showed that he was afraid that some part of it was true. His response confirmed some small part of it.

Vidal keeps his cool and wins the debate but later on is cynical about the whole thing but detests Buckley to the end.

Both Buckley and Vidal become obsessed about the debates. One visitor to Vidal talks about having to watch it over and over again and he discussed it every day during the visit.

At the last taping of Firing Line (33 years) Ted Koppel is interviewing him and he runs the clip and you can see Buckley deeply affected at seeing it and is rendered speechless.

And at about the 1:22:00 mark there is something that I found profoundly sad. Charlie Rose is interviewing him and asks him about regrets and Buckley says he wouldn't take a pill that would turn the clock back, he is "tired of life" and doesn't want to go back, he just wants to stop. His face is distorted and worn with something deeply troubling.

I think I know what has drained the life out of Buckley. He used his life to pursue a foundation philosophy of conservative philosophy (or more accurately termed "classical liberalism" that would promote a secular government that would enshrine the maximum amount of personal freedom that would allow a devout citizenry to both prosper and grow in a moral sense.

The charge "crypto Nazi" tagged him to the political movement of the Republican Party from Nixon on and he saw his contribution to keep it on the rails and away from the race based politics that far right wing European countries had devolved into that which eventually became fascist. He saw his efforts to keep the KKK and racists out of the Republican Party turned on its head by the "Southern Strategy" and could see that this marriage of convenience would eventually consume the Republican Party. Of course I could be completely off on this

The one happy note for me about William Buckley is that Buckley's only son Christopher Buckley embraces Barack Obama and leaves the National Review, ironically confirming Buckley's Catholic religion that redemption is possible.

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