U.S. Senate candidate Jim Webb has a hell of a resume. One recurring theme in his life’s work is writing. He’s written six best-selling novels and a single non-fiction work, worked around the globe as a journalist, and, astoundingly, he’s won an Emmy for his coverage of the Marines in Beirut for PBS.
I have to confess that I’ve never read more a few pages of Webb’s work. I’ve read a half dozen of his articles and the opening bit of “Born Fighting,” his lone non-fiction novel. My assumption was that he was a Dick Marcinko kind of a writer — strong on plot, weak on actual writing skills. So I was understandably shocked when I attended the recent reading at The Paramount, at which Webb, Stephen King, and John Grisham all read from their work. I’ve enjoyed the work of both King and Grisham, and consider them excellent commercial writers (to use their term). To be honest, I was a bit nervous about Webb reading, since it was inevitable that he would be upstaged by King and Grisham. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Jim Webb’s writing was considerably better than either of his stagemates that evening. The audience was clearly very impressed, and I was delighted to have been so wrong.
The thread running through Webb’s novels is, of course, the Vietnam War. He has incorporated within them his own experiences as a soldier, the knowledge that he’s gained of Vietnam’s cultures in his visits there since, and all that he’s learned about the changing face of the military in his work as a journalist throughout his life. To make an obvious but necessary point, serving in Vietnam was a terrible, life-changing, central experience for every American soldier who did a tour there. They witnessed — Jim Webb witnessed — horrible things that are difficult for civilians like me to understand. Webb’s ability to synthesize the worst of the Vietnam War with the acts of tender humanity and the bizarre (to us) cultural practices of the Vietnamese with the routine heroism of American soldiers is what has made him such a successful, well-respected novelist and journalist.
Jim Webb’s opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Sen. George Allen, has recently discovered Webb’s books. Allen is really quite upset by something described in Webb’s 2001 book, “Lost Soldiers.” It’s this bit:
A shirtless man walked toward them along a mud pathway. His muscles were young and hard, but his face was devastated with wrinkles. His eyes were so red that they appeared to be burned by fire. A naked boy ran happily toward him from the little plot of dirt. The man grabbed his young son in his arms, turned him upside-down, and put the boy’s penis in his mouth.
This practice, found in rural areas of Cambodia, does not sit well with Sen. Allen. No doubt it’s unsettling to most westerners. We kiss people to indicate affection. In rural Cambodia, parents put young children’s penises in their mouths to indicate affection. (I get all skeeved out just writing that.) A Cambodian mother is Las Vegas is being prosecuted for doing just this to her son, and the Cambodian Association of America is attempting to explain to authorities that there’s simply nothing sexual about the act. Webb’s description of this in his novel illustrates how stark the divide can be between east and west and how very strong that culture shock can be. Allen’s anger is understandable.
But I’ve left out a detail. Allen’s not angry about the act. He’s angry that Jim Webb wrote about it. Allen believes that merely acknowledging the existence of this practice makes Webb unfit to hold office, because that implicitly means that Webb endorses it.
I’m left near speechless by this logic. It’s a parody of political correctness, a caricature of an uptight nanny-state.
If we ignore that which we find abhorrent, will it go away?
If Sen. Allen mentions rape, murder, Nancy Pelosi or homosexuality, does that means that he supports it?
Does Sen. Allen believe that every reporter endorses every topic and position that they have ever written about?
I cannot believe that Allen believes what he’s saying. I can only conclude that, having seen that he’s tied with Webb just a week and a half prior to the election, this is the best that he’s got. It’s come down to the wire, and the best case that he can make that he’s a better candidate than Jim Webb is that Webb has written about something icky.
Republicans understand how abhorrent that Allen’s desperate path is. Rick Moran at Rightwing Nuthouse and Michelle Malkin (of all people) have both weighed in against Allen’s gambit in strong terms, and I expect to see more.
Virginia voters will, I expect, react similarly. I’m reminded of Jerry Kilgore’s “Hitler” ad. The television ad was so strong, the accusation so alarming, that voters were forced to make a choice. Who did they believe: Jerry Kilgore or Tim Kaine?. Kilgore seemed just weaselly and untrustworthy enough, and Kaine just honest enough, that they picked Tim Kaine. Likewise this accusation is so strong, so alarming, that voters will again have to choose. Who do Virginia voters trust more? George Allen, or Jim Webb?
That’s a gamble I’m very, very happy to make.