Victor Davis Hanson

When Reuters published doctored photos from the recent war in Lebanon, unknowingly or not, they were disseminating computer-enhanced graphic art. That dark smoky sky over Beirut was not real photography. Recent journalistic exposes of the Iraqi war, such as Bob Woodward's "State of Denial," might have been mistaken for histories. They weren't, since their footnotes referenced the reader to anonymous sources that can't be verified.

And the problem isn't just that we are led to believe a film or book must be "true" when it is sometimes not. It's also that we often deliberately want to make something real that was never intended to be. Fury arose recently over the fictionalized docudrama "The Path to 9/11." The charge was that it was not an accurate rendition of history, even though ABC issued multiple warnings of its fictionalized nature across our television screens.

And now we are supposed to believe that an imaginary story — and that is what a novel is — must be an accurate moral litmus test of its creator?

Novelgate raises another issue: Rather than condemning candidates who are skilled in artistic and literary expression, we should welcome them. America needs more diverse politicians — people who are neither lawyers nor millionaires who so often win office through equivocation or through the power of money.

Colorless would-be politicians whose past legal and commercial training has taught them to raise money and say nothing of consequence cannot be expected to show courage and candor when they assume office. In the past, when flamboyant generals, inventors, builders, actors, teachers, pilots, doctors, farmers and, yes, novelists participated in democracy, the richer became our political ideas and oratory.

Whatever you think of James Webb, he at least brings a different background to politics. He wrote about human depravity because he had apparently seen a great deal of it and wished to warn his readers. Webb's past life proves that he is a far different, far better person than many of the warped characters he feels he must create. And we should know and appreciate such a distinction — while also restoring the critical fault line between art and reality.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.