Moses and Ramses, Holmes and Moriarty, Superman & Lex Luthor, Leonard & Hearns, Seinfeld and Newman; None of these rivals can compare to the arch-enemies Buckley-Vidal.
William F. Buckley Jr. is arguably the most prominent and consequential conservative in recent generations. Referred to as the “King Maker”, the founder of National Review was at Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s side throughout their campaigns and presidency.
Gore Vidal was an accomplished author and liberal social elite, ‘born to become President’. Some of his many books became plays and movies, and he was a celebrated intellectual supporting progressive causes. He was certainly ahead of his time, discussing taboo’s such as transgender rights (his best-selling Myra Breckenridge became a film that bordered on pornographic). He was often featured in leftist publications until his death.
In 1968, the ABC network was practically non-existent. “If there were 4 networks, ABC would have been 4th”. Social, political and economic upheaval was taking place in the streets of America while a Presidential election was monopolizing the networks attention.
It was during the GOP Miami Convention that ABC took a flyer: While all networks would broadcast boring wall-to-wall coverage of the Nixon and McGovern (Chicago) conventions, ABC created “Unconventional Convention Coverage”. Credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) due to ABC, for they created the punditry class that has mushroomed to become the filler of so much political coverage today. They put on a series of debates (ten) between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal, live.
Vidal studied, prepared and came to the debates ready to ‘own’ WFB. While Vidal hunkered down sharpening his wit and making copious notes, WFB was vacationing, literally sailing on his not so common-man yacht.
During the first debate Vidal’s readiness was apparent and with a lack of ABC structure (they had never done this before), it turned into a free-for-all.
Over the series of debates, the tension, hatred (not too strong of a word) and vitriol grew between the two patrician men. Toward the end of the series, their ninth debate fell on August 28, 1968, the night of the Chicago riots. What can only be compared with recent events in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore MD, America was watching in color from their living rooms Mayor Daley’s Chicago police using nightsticks (protecting themselves) against racial SJW’s, peaceniks/hippies and your typical riot opportunists.
America was furious. Only weeks after Vidal’s other nemesis, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated, both WFB and Vidal were ready to point blame toward each other’s politics, and each other. Without spoiling the film for those who don’t recall, suffice to say, it got ugly and became one of Buckley’s greatest regrets.
The documentary was artfully done and to my ‘right of center eyes’, prescribed very little if no political slant. I left my couch feeling disdain for Vidal. I got the sense that Buckley could and would have made peace with Vidal before they both passed away, if the opportunity allowed it. But Vidal was a sad man whose intellectual heft succumbed to his emotion and hatred of WFB to the point of dancing on his grave.
From a macro perspective, so much of what we talk, argue and debate over today are the same issues Buckley and Vidal wrestled over. It brings to mind the fact that maybe we don’t learn from previous generations, or simply this: Humans are not as smart as we think we are, and will always repeat mistakes, and bicameral power can only play against each other for useless points, not caring for those, the voters, who put them there.
Put Best of Enemies on your holiday watch list: Now on Netflix or On Demand. Highly recommended!