Political Race Turns into Ugly Literary Debate

By Neal Comment

Here at GalleyCat, we can usually steer clear of most political hullaballoos and leave them for more appropriate blogs, but the latest twist in the Virginia Senate race between George “Macaca” Allen and James “Jim” Webb has a publishing angle too delicious to ignore. The Washington Post has an excellent summary, which I’ll try to break down even quicker: After failing to get the legitimate media interested in writing about passages in Webb’s novels allegedly demeaning to women, Allen’s campaign staff sent an email to Matt Drudge, and all of a sudden there’s a story. One of Webb’s first responses was to point out that Lynne Cheney put plenty of sexually-tinged material in Sisters, a 1981 novel featuring (as USA Today described it) “brothels, attempted rapes and a lesbian love affair.” Cheney has worked hard to suppress the book, because keeping it out of print is the most effective way to bluff when journalists question her about it, as Wolf Blitzer did on CNN Friday afternoon. (If you’re interested in judging Cheney’s alleged smuttiness for yourself, a PDF version of the novel is still floating around online.)

Over the weekend, Webb came back at Allen, referring to him as part of “a group of unprincipled, small-minded, power-hungry character assassins.” He also observed that Jennifer Allen, the senator’s sister, depicts several instances of her brother’s abusive behavior in her 2000 memoir, Fifth Quarter. Sen. Allen’s response? “People have asked my sister and she said it was a novelization.” At least one attempt to get Jennifer Allen on the record about that characterization has met with failure.

But the real kink in Allen’s argument may well be Webb’s stamp of approval from the United States Marine Corps, which requires every soldier between the ranks of corporal and sergeant to read Fields of Fire, one of the novels Allen’s underlings singled out for attack. In the opinion of the Corps, Webb “conveys the experience of combat with rare lucidity” and “creates a doctrine of combat leadership and a creed for the succeeding generation on how and why Marines fight.”