Video of the Day: Gore Vidal vs. William F. Buckley in 1968

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Next time someone complains about the lack of civility in today's politics, play this clip of the two late authors nearly coming to blows.

Gore Vidal, who died Tuesday at 86, is being eulogized almost entirely as a "man of letters." But the author was also a man of politics. An outspoken liberal, he ran against Jerry Brown for Senate in California in 1982 and also for the House in New York. His grandfather, Thomas Gore, was a Democratic senator from Oklahoma; he was distantly related to Jimmy Carter. Michele Bachmann famously claimed that reading a Vidal book turned her into a Republican.

The witty, acerbic, gay Gore found a powerful foil in the witty, acerbic, very-not-gay William F. Buckley, the conservative movement founder. In 1968, the two men were asked by ABC News to serve as analysts for the Republican and Democratic conventions. In a year in which conventions were contentious, Vidal and Buckley created fireworks of their own, most famously in the clip above (which is probably NSFW without headphones). During a discussion of the Vietnam War, Buckley -- in his aristocratic drawl -- compares opponents of the war (including Vidal) to Nazi appeasers. Vidal, in his own aristocratic drawl, fires back.

Vidal: The only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself...

Buckley: Now listen you queer, quit calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered.

After the conventions, the men began a longrunning feud, starting with rival essays in the pages of Esquire and eventually advancing to court. The next time someone tries to tell you that civility used to be a hallmark of American politics but sadly has been lost, show them this clip.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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