Gore Vidal took a keen interest in Watergate while the scandal was ongoing, of course. In fact, he once said he often could not wait to get out of bed in the mornings in order to check on the latest developments overnight. He wrote an essay about Watergate, titled “Political Melodramas,” that was published in the May 4, 1973, edition of The New Statesman, in London, that drew the ire of Stewart Alsop, a conservative columnist at Newsweek.
Alsop responded to Vidal in the column titled, “Watergate Theories,” that was published in the magazine’s July 13, 1973, edition:
Should we Americans, like poor Tom Dooley, hang down our heads and cry?
The question is inspired by a recent article by Gore Vidal in Britain’s left-wing New Statesman magazine … There are certain American writers who get a queer thrill out of letting it all hang out, before a British left-intellectual audience, about how horrible America is. Gore Vidal is such a one. Watergate is, of course, his theme.
“I fear,” he writes loftily, “the United States has always been a nation of ongoing hustlers from the prisons and disaster areas of old Europe … I do not think that the American System in its present state of decadence is worth preserving. The initial success of the United States was largely accidental. A rich empty continent was … exploited by rapacious Europeans who made slaves of Africans and corpses of Indians in the process.” And so on …
But it may become necessary [to cry, like Tom Dooley] if a rather widely held theory is correct. This is the theory that the youngish men who have appeared before the [Senate Watergate committee chaired by North Carolina Democratic Sen. Sam Ervin], and those yet to appear, represent the American ruling class of the future. A ruling class tends to share a style, a way of speaking, and a point of view. Jeb Stuart Magruder and John Dean share a style, a sort of bland neatness, and in their slightly more middle-aged way, so do John Erlichman and H.R. Haldeman. They share a way of speaking — an oddly convoluted diction that sounds often like a difficult translation, and pat phrases like “signing on (off),” “brought up to speed on,” “in that time frame,” “at this point in time,” “inoperative.”
These people also share a point of view — that the purpose of life is to gain brownie points with the next layer up in the hierarchy, and that questions of right and wrong have nothing to do with the case. According to the theory, people of this sort are beginning wholly to dominate the great American corporations and such ancilliary organizations as the big advertising and law firms, wher ete basic decisions on how Americans live are said to be made. Such people are thus becoming the American ruling class.
That is the theory. I don’t think I believe it. But if it’s true, Gore Vidal might, in time, be proved right after all about how horrible America is.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, it’s fair to say that time has proved that Gore Vidal was right. And then some.