Gore Vidal and the New Radicalism

Steal This Book

Books are magic. The right ones by the right authors always find their way into your life at just the right time. Surely that’s not a sweeping generalization. Books simply work that way.

I was browsing through the self-help section – or was it the do-it-yourself section – in a used bookstore in Kirksville in the early 1990s, when I stumbled across a rather instructive manual – Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book.” Yes, very instructive for a poor college boy with a radical streak (or so my father used to say) and real baggy jeans.

It was exhilarating dipping into the revolutionary culture of the 1960s. There were instructions on how to do everything: Guerrilla broadcasting! Demonstrations! First aid for street fighters! How to get free clothes and furniture!

It’s the perfect manual for the Occupy-types.

“Everyone must take responsibility for everyone else if we are to survive in the streets,” Mr. Hoffman instructs. “If you spot someone lying unconscious or badly injured, take it upon yourself to help the victim. Immediately raise your arm or wave your Nation flag and shout for a medic.”

Sitting on the sidewalk, minding your own business and suddenly a pig opens up with pepper spray? Raise that 99% banner, man! Medic!

Steal This Gore Vidal

A few months ago, a book of essays by Gore Vidal jumped into my arms at an English department book sale. The essays covered my undergraduate years, 1992-1997, and they were shockingly relevant today. Why, Vidal unknowingly coined the 1% slogan for the Occupy movement way back in October 1996.

Writing about the assured reelection of President Clinton, Vidal reflected on the wartime economy introduced by Truman. By 1996, this war-all-the-time policy (sounds familiar) pushed the national debt to $5 trillion, “Which does not stop 77 percent of the country’s before-tax income from going to the 1 percent that owns most of the wealth,” Vidal wrote.

Class warfare? Income disparity? Got it.

“Some 39 million Americans now live in poverty of a sort unknown to other First World countries; and despite happy cries from the Clinton administration at each job created by the fast-food emporia, the median income of the famous middle class (some 65 percent of the whole) has dropped 13 percent since 1973, when the wives of workers were first obliged to take jobs just to maintain the family budget.”

Fifteen years later, Clinton rolls into Warrensburg, elbows on the podium, a wink at the sweet graduate meat staring back, and calls the ever-rising income disparity “the new radicalism.” Clinton left office with a surplus, but Vidal would be the first to say that government surplus is a colloquialism for defense budget opportunism.

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  1. #1 by Amanda on December 14, 2011 - 2:45 am

    Wish for those days of a “good president” back! Clinton wasn’t perfect, but he did have us in a better position. This economy is SCARY!!

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