President George W. Bush, speaking at his second inauguration: “America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal, instead, is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way. The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America’s influence is not unlimited; but fortunately for the oppressed, America’s influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause…”
Interviewer: Gore Vidal, your response to these words?
Gore Vidal: Well, I hardly know where to end, much less begin. There’s not a word of truth in anything that he said. Our founding fathers did not set us on a course to liberate the world from tyranny. Jefferson just said, “all men are created equal, and should be free,” et cetera, but it was not the task of the United States to “go abroad to slay dragons,” as John Quincy Adams so wisely put it; because if the United States does go abroad to slay dragons in the name of freedom, liberty, and so on, she could become “dictatress of the world,” and in the process “She would lose her soul.” That is the lesson we should be learning now, instead of this declaration of war against the entire globe.
He doesn’t define what tyranny is. I’d say what we have now in the United States is working up a nice tyrannical persona for itself and for us. As we lose liberties he’s, I guess, handing them out to other countries which have not asked for them. That’s the reaction in Europe — and I know we mustn’t mention them because they’re immoral and they have all those different kinds of cheese — but, simultaneously, they’re much better educated than we are, and they’re richer. Get that out there: The Europeans per capita are richer than Americans, per capita. And by the time this administration is finished, there won’t be any money left of any kind…
And none of this we heard about in the last election. We were too busy with homosexual marriage and abortion: two really riveting subjects. War and peace, of course, are not worth talking about. And civilization, God forbid that we ever commit ourselves to that…
A selection from Gore Vidal’s critiques of President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address, which were recorded this week in 2005.
I’ve uploaded a recording of the rest of Vidal’s brilliant, biting response below. It’s relevant and worth a watch even today.
As we now watch President Obama deliver this year’s State of the Union, almost 9 long years to the day since Bush uttered those words, it’s worth reflecting on how little has changed.
The War in Afghanistan, with it’s unprecedented 82% disapproval rate, is almost as unpopular as the Congress which kind of, sort of, almost authorized it. Still, we’re spending about $400 million there each day. Meanwhile, as I walk a block from my downtown apartment in America’s beautiful capital city, I see schools moldering and potholes flecking every street. (That 400,000,000, by the way, does not include the additional $130 million which we are daily funneling into Iraq, nor does it account for the $5.5 to $8.4 billion which we will spend annually to care for our veterans from both wars over the next three, four, five decades.)
Our Constitutional liberties remain largely ignored (much less restored) by a burgeoning surveillance state which, a decade later, is yet to make a single arrest that has prevented a terrorist attack. There are now over a million names on our terrorist watch list: a hay stack that, as it distends, obscures the few needles hiding inside it. Correspondingly, a million people now hold “top secret clearance” to access classified government information — a label fit for the gruesome world of Winston Smith and farcical enough for Peter Sellers or the President of Faber College. It took one in a million — Mr. Edward Snowden — to finally reveal what this unelected, unmonitored, and undomesticated appendage of the federal government was doing with our money and to us and our allies (in Brazil, in Germany, in South Korea), but he, like other whistle-blowers under this administration, was hardly honored for that act of conscience. While his stand has produced some valuable backlash against these security developments, the direction of their momentum remains unchanged; as the surveillance state becomes more opaque to us, we become more transparent to it.
Of course tonight’s pageantry is amounting to little more than a string of platitudes, but nevertheless, it is worth hoping that the coming days will reflect a glimmer of the promise that we are turning away from the imperial and the tyrannical, and turning towards Constitutionality at home and diplomacy abroad.