Gore Vidal on Jerry Brown at City Arts & Lectures
Gore Vidal — author, political candidate, liberal icon, raconteur, intellectual wise-ass — died yesterday evening at his home in Los Angeles. Not sure how long AP’s been working on the obit, but they’ve got a massive one here.
In 2006, Vidal made an appearance at City Arts & Lectures at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, in conversation with KQED’s own Scott Shafer. Topics including Arnold Schwarzennegger and Jerry Brown, whom Vidal ran against in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 1982 (he was swamped by Brown but came in second in a crowded field).
Of Schwarzennegger, who had just won re-election, Vidal answered the question “who is the real Arnold?” His answer:
“Oh there isn’t one, which is why he’s been quite successful. People who are real have a difficult time, often, in politics. If you’re acting all the time and you have a good acting coach, say the right things… I think he’s presented himself pretty well. The accent of course will have to go over the years. But look, Henry Kissinger never lost his.”
Here’s the transcript from the segment on Jerry Brown, after the audio. It’s pretty good…
SCOTT SHAFER: What do you make of his political ascent, then becoming mayor of Oakland and now attorney general…he keeps reinventing himself. Does he seem authentic to you?
GORE VIDAL: Yeah… he’s an authentic reinventor of himself. I find that admirable, because he’s not saturated in self-love, like most of them. He doesn’t really like what he sees in the mirror and he’s going to change it.
The only time we appeared [together] in the campaign was with Herb Caen as the MC… They asked some questions, what did Jerry think of me really, what did I think of him, really. We were fairly guarded. Then I sort of said what I thought. You know, it’s bad for your character to keep running for president. It just wears you out, too much energy goes into what after all is a kind of trivial pursuit. I said if I were Jerry, I’d take a few years off and think, why am I doing this? What is this for? To what end?
And the most astonishing thing is he took my advice. He went to Calcutta, he went to see the Dalai Lama, he made all those stations of the cross, as it were, along the way. And he came back a truly changed person.
Remember, he’s a very bright guy. And I said to him, when he’s announcing for attorney general, you know, the offices are getting smaller and smaller that you’re standing for. He said I know that, I don’t really care. He said my father was twice governor of California; my father said the only time he’d been happy in politics is when he was attorney general of the state. The only time you could do something useful. I said ” powers of subpoena?” And suddenly the face of Torquemada was looking at me.
I think he came back as changed a person as anybody ever is. He grew up.
SHAFER: And you wrote speeches for him when he ran for president.
VIDAL: Well yeah, somebody said turn on Jerry Brown… he was on making a speech somewhere, running against Clinton in the (92) primary. And I recognized the speech, it was one of the ones I’d used against him.
So I sent him a message; I said I’m extremely touched, how well you read that speech of mine. You can’t phase Jerry. He said, okay you got any others? I said I’ve got one or two….
So I passed on a couple of things to him. One was what to do about disarmament….I said they’re big on defense [in Connecticut], they make all those submarines. I said go and stand in front of a factory that’s losing workers because we’re cutting back on the military budget and say all of this can be transformed; it’s the same kind of work as making buses. We’ll shift over from…making nuclear submarines to transit.
He carried Connecticut. And I take full credit for that.
By the way, everyone laughed at that last remark like it was a joke. But I think he meant it.