For decades Vidal had said that Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and let the slaughter come anyway, and when 9/11 gave him the chance to make the same slander against another president, he went even further and speculated that George Bush had colluded with his vice president to encourage the terrorist attacks. At his death a critic at the Washington Post summarized the Vidalian view with an uncommon mildness: “He took an acerbic view of American leadership.”
The man must have felt bulletproof. With implausible romances like Lincoln and Burr he filled more readers’ heads with more historical crapola than anyone since Parson Weems. (“So powerful as to compel awe,” said Harold Bloom of Vidal’s make-believe histories.) He thought the Bilderbergers and members of the Bohemian Grove controlled world finance. (“He is a treasure of state,” said R.W.B. Lewis.) He befriended Timothy McVeigh and spoke warmly of him. (“Vidal did not lightly suffer fools,” said the obit writer in the New York Times.) He dished out anti-Semitism in a dozen different venues with imperturbable serenity. (“Both by temperament and by birth he was an aristocrat,” said the Times.) He called William F. Buckley a crypto-Nazi. (“Vidal was known for his . . . scathing wit,” said Diane Sawyer on ABC.) He wanted to try Henry Kissinger for war crimes and suggested that John McCain had invented tales of his torture at the hands of the Vietnamese. (“A savvy analyst and glorious gadfly on the national conscience,” said the L.A. Times.) He was paid nearly a million dollars, adjusted for inflation, to collaborate with the pornographer Bob Guccione on Caligula, the most expensive stroke film ever made. (“An astonishingly versatile man of letters” —the Post again.)
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