The great US writer and commentator Gore Vidal, who has passed at the age of 86, was seemingly related, or at least connected to, much of the Democrat establishment, even being distantly related to former Vice President Al Gore. Vidal was also a principled and combative presence, who famously had a long running feud with arch-conservative William F Buckley, Jr.
That this dispute ended up in a blaze of lawsuits should surprise nobody who followed the notorious Democratic Convention of 1968, held in Chicago to the backdrop of rioting, the aftermath of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, and the impression that Mayor Daley was working behind the scenes to ensure that Lyndon Johnson’s former Veep Hubert Humphrey got the nomination.
There was also the problem of the “Southern Democrats”, for which read those who wanted to maintain segregation in the face of civil rights legislation. Their standard bearer was Alabama Governor George Wallace, who ran in 1968 on a third party ticket and carried five states, effectively ensuring that Humphrey lost and sending one Richard Milhous Nixon to the White House.
Humphrey’s only serious challenger for the Democratic nomination was Senator Eugene McCarthy, who ran on an anti-Vietnam war platform, and whose early success in the primaries caused Johnson to withdraw. McCarthy’s campaign was fronted by economist and commentator J K Galbraith, who on occasion would be accompanied by Vidal in his rounds of the state caucuses.
“Early each convention morning Vidal was achieving much political celebrity by flagrantly libellous exchanges on television with William F Buckley, Jr” observed Galbraith. The television interviewers were not backward in coming forward with the question that would trigger yet more of those exchanges: inevitably they would ask “Mr Vidal, where is your friend Mr Buckley?”.
And Vidal would, equally inevitably, appear surprised before replying “Oh, Buckley. He’s over at the Wallace headquarters stitching hoods”.