The ugliest race for the U.S. Senate got uglier last week when Sen. George Allen
(R-Va) attacked his Democratic opponent, James Webb, for the sex acts committed by
characters in Mr. Webb's novels.
The lead example Sen. Allen cited, from Mr. Webb's 2001 novel "Lost Soldiers," is a
jarring description of homosexual incest and pedophilia. The widespread publicity
given it has been unhelpful to Mr. Webb's candidacy.
"When a man who also happens to have children, in this case sons, is confronted with
the scene Webb composed, the reaction is, well, strong," wrote a naval officer in
Virginia in an email to Kathryn Lopez of National Review Online. "The common
response I heard this morning is 'sick son of a b***h.'"
But these are works of fiction, and there is no evidence Mr. Webb practices or
advocates the bizarre sexual practices he writes about.
Making a campaign issue of these passages is a low blow. But there is a certain
cosmic justice in it, since Mr. Webb's campaign against Sen. Allen has consisted
mostly of lower blows.
It didn't have to be this way. This could have been the most edifying senate race
in the nation.
I was not among those conservatives who'd hopped on the Allen presidential bandwagon
last year because, frankly, I don't think George is all that bright. But he was a
very good governor in Virginia, has a solid record in the senate, and seems like a
I knew Jim Webb in the 1980s, and admired him. He's a genuine war hero, and a great
writer with a powerful mind.
Raised a southern Democrat, Mr. Webb became a Republican because of his contempt for
Jimmy Carter, and returned to the Democrats because of his opposition to the war in
I continue to believe overthrowing Saddam was the right thing to do, but what Mr.
Webb wrote in Washington Post in September of 2002 looks prescient now:
"The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime
of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy
territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years," he wrote then.
If anyone could make both a pragmatic and principled case against the war in Iraq,
it would be Mr. Webb. I was looking forward to a civil, issue-oriented campaign
between him and the man he'd endorsed for the U.S. Senate in 2000.
"Courage" and "intregrity" were the words that best described the Jim Webb I knew.
But going into politics doesn't improve one's character. Mr. Webb responded to the
attack on his writing by demanding details of Sen. Allen's divorce settlement.
From the beginning, the thrust of the Webb campaign has been specious personal
attacks on his opponent.
Sen. Allen asked for grief in August when he referred to a Webb campaign aide as
"macaca," which sounds something like "macaque," which in France is a racial slur.
It was a stupid thing to say, and Sen. Allen apologized for it profusely and often.
But the controversy was hardly worth the 100 stories the Washington Post devoted to
Back in May, Ryan Lizza of the New Republic implied Sen. Allen was a racist because
years ago, he used to display a Confederate battle flag in his law office.
For white southerners, the Confederate battle flag is associated with courage and
regional pride, not racial oppression. The Jim Webb I knew would have rushed to Sen.
Allen's defense. In his most recent book, "Born Fighting," he decried the
"Nazification of the Confederacy." But the Webb campaign joined in the mudslinging.
The macaca flap was followed by the assertion by two Democratic operatives that as a
college student, Sen. Allen had uttered the N word. Though no proof was offered for
this assertion, which was denied by other of Allen's classmates it made the front
page of the Washington Post.
A former close associate said Mr. Webb had used the N word as a college student, had
driven through Watts looking for blacks to frighten. Somehow this revelation didn't
make the front page of the Washington Post.
Sen. Allen has a long record in public life, one that has earned him the endorsement
of the largest black newspaper in Virginia. He should be judged on that, not on
manufactured charges of racism. Mr. Webb knows this, but his aides have abetted the
smear campaign, despite Mr. Webb's own vulnerability to charges of racism and
So it is perhaps fitting, if unfair, for Mr. Webb to suffer for the sex lives of his
characters. What goes around comes around.