Monday, January 31, 2005

Vanity Fair online, Gore Vidal and Trisha on Lincoln

Thank you to Trisha who e-mailed a half hour ago. Trisha was very offended last week when the idea that Abraham Lincoln might have had a same-sex experience in his lifetime was "ridiculed without any discussion at all."

Why did we highlight Vanity Fair, because they're providing more content online. Among which is Gore Vidal's review of The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C.A. Tripp:

What the Kinseyites and I had in common so long ago was the knowledge that homosexual and heterosexual behavior are natural to all mammals, and that what differs from individual to individual is the balance between these two complementary but not necessarily conflicted drives. So, what has all this to do with our greatest president?
The young Lincoln had a love affair with a handsome youth and store owner, Joshua Speed, in Springfield, Illinois. They shared a bed for four years, not necessarily, in those frontier days, the sign of a smoking gun—only messy male housekeeping. Nevertheless, four years is a long time to be fairly uncomfortable. The gun proved to be the letters that passed between them when Joshua went home to Kentucky to marry, while Lincoln was readying himself for marriage in Springfield.

Click on the link above. When I learned that Vanity Fair was posting their Star Wars article online, I found Vidal's review but couldn't remember who'd e-mailed on the Lincoln issue last week. (E-mails are not saved at this site. If you've expressed your desire to be quoted, they're printed up -- otherwise they're deleted.)

We do have some Star Wars fans at this site and had mentioned the cover story when we highlighted their story on prison abuse in Iraq so that was a good story to start with. However,
I was hoping that whomever had raised the issue of Lincoln last week would e-mail again and (hopefully) give permission to be quoted.

Trisha: Did I miss something? Is Al Franken a historian? I really do not like it when someone dismisses something they obviously know nothing about and haven't given more than a second's thought. Gatekeeper is the only word for that kind of nonsense. I like Al, I think he's funny, but he needs to step away from the gatekeeper role. This review by Gore Vidal bears a lot more weight with me than Al's clever mockery. Would you please link to this review?

Already done. I know nothing of Lincoln's sex life -- I didn't sleep with him. I know that much. Anything else is beyond my knowledge pool. If people want to explore this or discuss it or examine it, hey, it's up for the grabs, have at it.

Trisha: Would you please quote this part of the review:

So here we are; history, too. The magisterial Professor David Herbert Donald disagrees with Tripp's interpretation of Lincoln's intimate life, but he also rejects Herndon's version on a key point. Since Professor Donald wrote a superb book called Lincoln's Herndon, he is turning, as it were, on one of his own characters. Professor Donald is our foremost authority on Lincoln and so backed by much of the history establishment. Tripp is a maverick with new information and a different synthesis. Neither Donald nor Tripp nor, indeed, Herndon's ghost can prove his case. Lincoln's ghost is no doubt ready to chat—with, I suspect, a story, possibly obscene.

Trisha (con't): If nothing else, this needs to be discussed, not dismissed. I'm sorry Al's uncomfortable talking about sex. Excuse me, he's not. He made sexually laced remarks to Strom Thurman's daughter last week that I felt crossed a line (about what went on in the garden). It's okay to do that and Katherine's not interjecting "Al, high road" every few seconds.
But the idea that Lincoln might have had a gay experience sends Al into some sort of panic. (In About Last Night, they called it a homosexual panic, I believe.) I'm really ticked off. No one forced him to bring the topic up. To bring it up just to dismiss it and scoff at it really bothered me not just because it seemed gatekeeping but it also seemed homophobic. When Al wrote that piece for Mother Jones, which was about how happy the "men" stationed overseas were to see him making lewd jokes and kissing some actress, I thought, "Good Lord, does he realize how outdated and sexist he's coming off?" Now I'm wondering if he's one of those people who's frozen in the 60s? He can support gay rights because that was the thing to do when he was in college if you were high minded but that's about all he can do. If the actual issue of homosexuality comes up, he gets nervous and falls back on college days. It's 2005, not 1965. Time's have changed. And on the subject of gay people, I want to add 1 more thing, the song that's played for David Brock is insulting. "Now he's back in the human race" or some such nonsense? I'm no fan of Brock's actions towards Anita Hill and others but he's addressed them long before Al got a radio show. The song is really insulting and I do not know how David can put up with hearing it everytime he comes on the show. Al may think it's funny, I just think it's cruel. If there's no forgiveness for past failures, even when the person owns up to them and attempts to make up for them, what's the point of forgiveness?
I didn't want to be quoted last week because I do like Al and I thought, "Oh, you'll get over the Lincoln nosense by this weekend." But I didn't and haven't. And news flash, the New Republic writers and the AEI people are far more in need of a "return to the human race" than is David.
Those lyrics just grate on me. And I'm beginning to wonder if Al gets some perverse thrill out of using that song to rake David over the coals each time he comes on.
I'm sorry to go off on Al but if I didn't enjoy the show, I'd just turn it off. But the dismissal of Lincoln's sex life outright with no discussion and his treatment of David are really upsetting to me. Maybe no one else will feel like me but if nothing else Gore Vidal is God should enjoy the link to a review by Gore Vidal.

There's no harm in sharing. And I'm sure Gore Vidal is God isn't the only one who'll enjoy Vidal's review. I really don't listen to Al. During his show, I've got my hour lunch, another hour is usually up by listening to Democracy Now! and a half hour goes to Free Speech Radio News.
That leaves a half hour for Franken's show if everything's running smoothly and that's a rare day. So I'm not aware of what Franken said or didn't say about Lincoln. (I made a point to catch two hours when Joe Conason guest hosted.)

But if that's what you felt when you listened, it's worth sharing and thank you for agreeing to be quoted. I do know the song "We Will Brock You" (to the tune of "We Will Rock You") and I agree that it has outlived its purpose and should have new lyrics put to it.

As for Vanity Fair other online features include a link to James Wolcott's blog (Vanity Fair contributer and author of the excellent Attack Poodles), a tribute to the late Majorie Williams (and three articles she wrote: one on Bill Clinton, one on Barbara Bush and one on Brian Williams), a profile on Hank Asher ("The Net's Master Data-miner" by Michael Shnayerson) and David Friend's history of Vanity Fair.