Gore Vidal spoke in Key West last night and it was a magnificent event. He was here for the 27th Annual Key West Literary Seminar and he packed the house. Vidal was generous with both his thoughts and his time, speaking on the topic of historical fiction for some time, then taking questions from the audience for a good deal longer. C-SPAN was there covering it, so you should be able to see a rerun at some point on one of their three channels.
Gore is one of those towering figures who can relate anecdotes that span such a great swath of American history that you find it hard to believe the man in the stories is sitting in front of you. Last night he told tales of helping his blind grandfather into the Senate Chamber during the Roosevelt administration, chatting with Amelia Earhart and looking over a map of her flight route over the Pacific and of sending a note to Barack Obama, urging him to focus on restoring the Constitution.
He was witty, sharp, caustic and devastatingly funny when he wanted to be. In the midst of the Earhart story mentioned above, he said, off-handed and almost off stage, “She really wasn’t that great a pilot… (pause a beat) …and that was a problem.”
He saved his most vicious remarks for the Bush administration and its follies and crimes. When asked about Sarah Palin, the republican vice presidential pick, he was dismissive, saying he felt “she talked like she thought the working class talked, which ended up sounding like she was talking down to them.” And although he reminded the audience that he had predicted many years ago that Bush would leave office the most hated president in history, he wouldn’t be brought out on predicting the future of the economic crisis. “I don’t do that kind of black magic,” he said.