. . . throw in some sordid sex scenes when you're writing a tough-guy war novel. The conventions of the genre, the market, and the publisher demand it. It's called an Obligatory Scene: "one that is expected by the audience relative to the genre." We who haven't been to the darkest places read such novels to glimpse Reality in all its seamy glory.
But like everything else -- tales of cheating on college exams, old lovers and drug buddies popping up like river-dumped corpses -- it can come back to bite you in the ass if you ever run for office.
George Allen's campaign had the bright, if rather childish, idea of going through James Webb's Vietnam war novels for the dirty parts, as if such scenes revealed anything about the mind of a particular writer and not just about the well-established conventions of the genre. Indeed, these scenes often seem borrowed, prefabricated, ordered wholesale from some potboiler factory and slotted in at prescribed intervals -- precisely not like they've boiled up from the writer's own secret obsessions.
That's how Webb's "sex scenes" read to me, with one exception: the scene in Lost Soldiers where the narrator witnesses a Vietnamese man lift his baby son into the air and put the boy's penis in his mouth. Like some commenters at Althouse, I used Amazon's "Search Inside This Book" feature to find the passage (on page 405) and had the impression that it probably depicted a strange and disturbing incident Webb had actually witnessed in Vietnam, as opposed to being a figment of his prurient imagination.
If you didn't know anything about books, writing, or fiction, you might naïvely believe that those passages reflect badly on Webb as anything other than a writer. Do the Republicans really think their constituents are that ignorant? What's more elitist than assuming and cynically trying to exploit such naïveté?
And don't you wonder how many excellent potential candidates avoid running for office because they've got some perfectly ordinary human secret(s) they're afraid will be dragged out and turned into their downfall?