The Best Man? When Gore Vidal Ran for Office
The Nation, August 1, 2012
"In 1960 he ran for Congress in a district along the Hudson River just north of where I now live, and received the active backing of everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Paul Newman. In her popular newspaper column, “My Day,” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote as election day neared, “Incidentally electing good Congressmen like William FitzRyan and Bill Vanden Heuvel in New York, or Gore Vidal up in my neck of the woods is very important to our national picture. No President can afford not to have a substantial majority of his own party in Congress at the present time, for he always has to overcome some divisions which are almost inevitable within the party itself.”
Part of Vidal’s platform: higher taxes on the wealthy. His slogan: “You’ll get more with Gore”—and wasn’t that always the case? Few writers had ever run for high office. (I chronicled the saga of one of them, Upton Sinclair, in my book, The Campaign of the Century.) Unfortunately, it was a very red district, and he lost by a 14 percent margin, while getting more votes than any Democrat in five decades. He loved to point out, for the rest of his life, that he outpolled John F. Kennedy in that district. Needless to say, he had not yet come out as a gay man.
Three years later he wrote this piece for Esquire, before the JFK assassination, suggesting that Bobby Kennedy would face off with Nelson Rockefeller (remember GOP moderate-liberals?) for the White House in 1968.
From about 1970 to 1972 he co-chaired the People’s Party, an upstart liberal and antiwar third political party that I remember well, with Dr. Benjamin Spock, and wrote an article for Esquire proposing Ralph Nader as a candidate in 1972. He wrote in a mid-1970s piece, “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt—until recently…and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.”