VIDAL VERSUS BUCKLEY. There is a new documentary out about the series of ten “debates” that William F Buckley and Gore Vidal had on television during the 1968 national political conventions. This article by Jim Holt on the New York Magazine website portrays how the debates have been remembered. They have been remembered as they were perceived at the time.
Holt begins his article by saying that Buckley and Vidal were “two especially splendid exemplars of a now-extinct species: ‘celebrity intellectual.’” The debates apparently began well—in Holt’s words, “not quite rising, perhaps, to the standard of Gladstone and Disraeli, but certainly better than anything we’ve witnessed since.” However, what is best remembered (not by me, as I saw none of the conventions) is an exchange at one of the last sessions with, as Holt describes it. “Vidal calling Buckley a ‘pro- or crypto-Nazi’ and Buckley calling Vidal a ‘queer’ and threatening to ‘sock’ him ‘in the goddamn face’.”
I think both Vidal and Buckley maintained their stature as intellectuals, but the notion that name calling is intellectual debate thrived as well and is still with us.