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The Great Debates of 1968

Perusing through the Netflix lineup one can chance to stumble across a documentary entitled “Best of Enemies“. This documentary was a blast from the past; The year was 1968, a year of seismic political change across the nation, it was a year of pop culture, a year of Vietnam protest, a year of significant debates. If you were alive back then you would probably remember being curious enough to take a peek at what was going on. At that time my significance on the planet was being a 13 year old who actually sat down on the floor in front of the black and white TV, remote not included, to view the debates which were on ABC. ABC thought they would do something different in the realm of news reporting and offer something a little more compelling to get your attention.

They hired two rather eloquent veteran writers and speakers to debate on live TV. The debates were hosted by veteran anchor and in this case hesitant referee Howard K. Smith. In this documentary were the debate contenders for the 1968 republican and democrat convention coverage are conservative William F. Buckley, and liberal Gore Vidal. Buckley was an author of many books and founder and editor of National Review, a conservative periodical.

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He was also master of ceremonies host of “Firing Line” an American public affairs debating TV program. The show was founded by Buckley and was the longest-running public affairs show in television history that had run for 33 years with Buckley as its only host. Gore Vidal was an author, playwright and of course an acerbic critic. He was also an indirect relative of Jacqueline Kennedy’s whom brother in law, Bobby Kennedy didn’t much care for. Somehow the directors of this documentary movie Robert Gordon, and Morgan Neville and Gore Vidal had this wild impression that somehow through some strange osmosis Gore Vidal won the debates.

It’s also somewhat entertaining that ABC never formally classified either as winner of those debates. They left that up to the viewing audience, there was verbal abuse but no fistfight although it had veered into that realm of possibility during the name calling segment. Maybe some of the folks watching might have even been waiting for the two contenders to take a swing at each other but nothing happened except verbal threats from Buckley wishing to punch Vidal out. However, those with a scintilla of intuition and who could not only see but have the capabilities of judging such matters of debate based on fair and balanced reasoning know that William F. Buckley walked away with the debate.

The reason why? It was more than likely the fact that because he was an undeniable expert at debating as host for firing line. Firing Line was a weekly show that had nothing but an expose of debates. In the spring of 1968 William F. Buckley uttered the words “why the races are unreconciled, why does poverty preservere, why are the young disenchanted, why do the birds sing so unhappily? It’s easy to be carried away.
And yet always there is a strain of seriousness. Something in the system that warns us, warns us that America had better strike out on a different course rather than face another four years of asphyxiation by liberal premises. This is William F. Buckley in New York, perfect! (Laughter)”

The aforementioned comment by William F.Buckley was just another harbinger, a reflection of what’s happening today!
Gore Vidal’s own editor and friend, Matt Tyrnauer called Gore Vidal an iconoclast. Rather a befitting description for the author of Myra Breckinridge, a book only notorious for its inclination towards perversion. Forthcoming, and a harbinger of what was going to be a popular concept in the World of transsexualism and gender dysphoria. Although he claims himself to be Americas author because he wrote so many books about famous American forefathers and written them rather well.

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One might be somewhat perplexed and fail to see where the debauchery of Myra Breckinridge fits into that category. Just before the debates between William F.Buckley and Gore Vidal, Buckley took off for a week of leisurely sailing down to Cozumel with friends. He obviously wasn’t worried about the debate because he was the unquestionable expert. Although another follower of Vidal’s specified that Buckley wasn’t prepared for his debate with Vidal which I find laughable because Buckley was always prepared no matter what was thrown at him.
A man of extreme articulation and well practiced debate form. So actually the opposite was true. Now considering that it took immense preparation on Vidal’s part, seeing that Vidal even hired a researcher to assist him . Debate was evidently not the reason for Gore Vidal to show up at the ABC studios. It was that he wanted to paint the national review as being racist and anti-Semitic according to George Merlis who was an ABC publicist.

It was even said by another follower that Vidal wasn’t concerned about the issues, parties or policies or platforms of the opposing democrat or republican parties. It was obvious Gore Vidal wanted to attack Bill Buckley’s personality with rather acerbic rhetoric. So here we have two rather eloquent writers ready to debate. One takes a week vacation because he knows his wares and vocation like the back of his hand. However, the other has to not only work at preparing but hires a researcher to assist him. Now, who has the deficit?
Obviously Vidal had the deficit because if you watch the debates between the two, Vidal is the one who was obviously attempting to needle Bill Buckley. Instead of having a half way pleasant debate if such a thing exists, Vidal attacks Buckley up until the point where Vidal calls Buckley a “crypto-Nazi”. Then Buckley loses his cool and calls Vidal a queer and threatens to punch him in the god damned face. So what did Vidal expect?

If you give out verbal abuse don’t expect the opposition to sit there and just take it. Expect some retaliation, especially if you’re condescending. Well, needless to say that 13 year old was stunned at two adults swearing and calling each other names on live TV. Nobody was anticipating such a drama to unfold.

That 13 year old yelling excitedly out to the kitchen where Mom was preparing dinner, “hey Ma, they’re swearing on TV!” However, this didn’t excite her as it did the 13 year old and was basically focusing on food preparation. Her response was a disappointing “yes dear.” The debates were psychologically imprinted on that 13 year old. 49 years later that 62 year old man doesn’t agree with the directors of the film, Robert Gordon, and Morgan Neville Or the infamous Gore Vidal. However, that 62 year old enjoyed the documentary immensely.
If one watches the documentary you’ll realize it was a harbinger of what was to come and it’s here right now in the present…it’s still on Netflix if you want to judge for yourself.

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