Sex and the Sinking Candidate

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN implored Virginians four weeks ago to focus less on personal attacks and more on "the issues" in his race for reelection. Now he has seized on an unlikely one: sex scenes in novels written by his Democratic opponent, James Webb. Now there's a pressing concern for Americans in 2006.

Mr. Allen, a Republican whose campaign professes profound moral shock that actual sex should occur in fiction, has spent months trying to extract himself from his own "macaca"-inspired tailspin. When all else failed -- including an Allen ad in which a woman accused Mr. Webb of misquoting her, although he never quoted her at all -- Mr. Allen apparently decided that what he needed was a sex scandal crafted to smear his rival and timed for the campaign's fourth quarter. Lacking such material in real life, he turned to Mr. Webb's novels, most of which concern the wartime experiences of soldiers and international intrigue. There he found -- horrors! -- sex. And what better place to spread the word than the Web site of Matt Drudge, the online gossip-monger. That ensured the story would be echoed by radio talk show hosts in high dudgeon.

Mr. Allen has spent months disparaging Mr. Webb as a writer of fiction, as if a novelist's experience is any more divorced from everyday reality than the life of a U.S. senator. His campaign suggests that because some female characters in Mr. Webb's books are portrayed as sleazy or servile Mr. Webb must himself see women in that light. Please. Maybe Mr. Allen also believes that J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, takes too soft a line on wizards.

As it happens, Mr. Webb, a former Navy secretary, assistant secretary of defense and Marine company commander in Vietnam, is an acclaimed novelist whose books are widely read. Mr. Allen wouldn't say whether he'd read any of Mr. Webb's novels himself -- only that "I've been reading initiatives and ideas and I'm trying to motivate people and inspire people."

Mr. Allen certainly is an inspiration -- to anyone who believes that political campaigns may be won by diversions and dirty tactics, even as the candidate calls high-mindedly for a discussion of "the issues." Win or lose, he'll be remembered for his performance during this race, and not fondly.

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