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"Jim Webb, elected by Virginia to the United States Senate in 2006, is the finest novelist ever to serve in Congress."

So says my colleague Craig Lerner in his engaging review of Senator Webb's literary output.

He adds, however, "One must temper this praise by adding that he is the only novelist of any note ever to serve in Congress."

Steve Lubet (mail):

"One must temper this praise by adding that he is the only novelist of any note ever to serve in Congress."


I guess Craig Lerner doesn't think much of Newt Gingrich's writing.

As to novelists in American politics, let's not forget Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur and governor of Indiana (though he never served in Congress).
10.6.2008 6:34pm
Observer:
Elizabeth Dole?
10.6.2008 6:39pm
commontheme (mail):
Webb is what a conservative used to be before they all turned into deficit spending torture fanboys.
10.6.2008 6:39pm
Cornellian (mail):
I was about to say there's not exactly a lot of competition for the title of "best novelist in Congress."
10.6.2008 6:40pm
Norman Bates (mail):
Webb is what liberals used to be before they turned into America-loathing, free-speech hating, 2nd Amendment-hating racial-quota-loving, anti-religious bigots.
10.6.2008 6:57pm
Dave N (mail):
I am trying to think of other politicians who were writers first--and not their own adulatory autobiographies. I mean serious books, whether fiction or not.

The only one I can think of off the top of my head (besides Webb) is S.I. Hayakawa, the former California Senator, who wrote Language in Thought and Action long before he ever entered politics.
10.6.2008 7:02pm
PC:
Too bad Scooter Libby never served in Congress.
10.6.2008 7:04pm
Malthus:
Not surprising. There have never been any mathematicians, scientists, engineers, inventors, chess players, cabinetmakers or welders of note in the Senate either.

We are represented by those from the barrel bottom who can talk but not do. Palin will fit right in as their leader and may even teach them some hunting skills, who knows?
10.6.2008 7:12pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Malthus:
There may never have been any mathematicians in the Senate, but at least one has been elected to it. James A. Garfield, who had come up with an original proof of the Pythagorean Theorem while serving in the House, was elected to the Senate and the Presidency simultaneously, but naturally turned down the lesser job.
10.6.2008 7:19pm
eyesay:
Vice President Dick Cheney was a member of Congress, and is married to Lynne Cheney, who wrote Sisters, which includes some lesbian love interest.
10.6.2008 7:24pm
Pliny, the Elder (mail):
I have to second Lerner's assessment of Webb as a good, maybe near great, novelist. Fields of Fire, A Sense of Honor, and A Country Such as This are all great, while Something to Die For and The Emperor's Geenral are pretty good. (Though the trend does appear to be one of decline.)
10.6.2008 7:33pm
eyesay:
Sen. Harrison Schmitt (R-NM) served 1977-1983 and is a geologist and is now adjunct professor of engineering physics at U. Wisconsin-Madison.
10.6.2008 7:34pm
Bob in SeaTac (mail):
How soon one forgets those two gripping Obama novels!
10.6.2008 7:36pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Dave N,

I am trying to think of other politicians who were writers first--and not their own adulatory autobiographies. I mean serious books, whether fiction or not.

Woodrow Wilson? (Not a Senator, of course, but IIRC his magnum opus was titled Congressional Government . ..)
10.6.2008 8:03pm
Asher (mail):
I have to second Lerner's assessment of Webb as a good, maybe near great, novelist. Fields of Fire, A Sense of Honor, and A Country Such as This are all great, while Something to Die For and The Emperor's Geenral are pretty good.

Even the titles sound terrible.
10.6.2008 8:12pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Harrison Schmitt had another pretty high-profile job as well.
10.6.2008 8:19pm
Pliny, the Elder (mail):
Harrison Schmitt walked on the moon.
10.6.2008 8:22pm
Oren:

Suddenly the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana the huntress. She rolled onto him and was sitting athwart his chest.

With writing like that, I'm surprised Newt didn't clobber him.

Malthus, by the way, there is a physicist in the House (since last year).
10.6.2008 8:30pm
JonC:
Congressman Peter King (R-NY) has also written several novels.

/nerd
10.6.2008 8:35pm
karl (mail):
Why does Webb always look like soneone has his privates in a vice?
10.6.2008 8:48pm
eyesay:
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has served in the House since 1999. He is a physicist.
10.6.2008 9:13pm
Jestak (mail):
Not to toot the horn for my own discipline or anything, but there has been at least one economist of considerable distinction to serve in Congress. Paul Douglas, a former president of the AEA and professor at the University of Chicago, was elected Senator from Illinois in 1966 and served three terms in the Senate.
10.6.2008 9:13pm
Dave N (mail):
And Rush Holt has an interesting political pedigree as well. His father, Rush Dew Holt, was a Democratic U.S. Senator from West Virginia, elected at age 29 and could not be sworn into the Senate until he turned 30 in June, 1935.

Senator Holt only served one term, breaking with FDR, and more importantly, the United Mine Workers. As a result, he lost his re-nomination bid in 1940.
10.6.2008 9:50pm
Dave N (mail):
Oh, Congressman Holt's OTHER claim to fame is that he is a 5-time Jeopardy champion.
10.6.2008 9:54pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
As far as author-politicians, Teddy Roosevelt (for serious nonfiction works). I seem to remember that one of the minor 20th century presidents wrote a book on fishing.
10.6.2008 10:04pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I guess Craig Lerner doesn't think much of Newt Gingrich's writing.

I thought his "Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery" was sound, but the character development lagged.
10.6.2008 10:07pm
Kirk:
karl,

Well, that helpful fellow from Ockham will be along shortly to suggest that one explanation is, "He does."
10.6.2008 10:11pm
Seamus (mail):
Paul Douglas, a former president of the AEA and professor at the University of Chicago, was elected Senator from Illinois in 1966 and served three terms in the Senate.

Actually, 1966 was the year that Douglas was defeated for re-election (by his former student, Chuck Percy).
10.6.2008 10:12pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"There have never been any mathematicians, scientists, engineers, inventors, chess players, cabinetmakers or welders of note in the Senate either."

How about John Edward Sununu, Senator from New Hampshire, who earned degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT. His father, former governor of New Hampshire earned a PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT.
10.6.2008 10:14pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Then there was Senator Glenn who received an engineering degree from Muskingum College.
10.6.2008 10:19pm
Milhouse (www):
Herbert Hoover was a writer of note, but not of novels. And he never served in Congress.
10.6.2008 11:09pm
Grant (mail):
Eugene McCarthy was a poet who was at least occasionally well-reviewed.
10.7.2008 12:35am
Uthaw:
I guess Craig Lerner doesn't think much of Newt Gingrich's writing.

Did Newt write any fiction before being elected?

How about John Edward Sununu,

"Of note" is the key phrase - what were his notable scientific accomplishments (or his dad's)?

Why does Webb always look like soneone has his privates in a vice?

His wife is Vietnamese? =)
10.7.2008 12:53am
TokyoTom (mail):
Craig Lerner's comments here are rather puzzling:

"The wisdom of the invasion can, of course, be fairly debated, but Webb takes the charge a dubious step farther, accusing the war's planners with not simply negligence, but "conscious deception." He adduces little evidence to support this latter claim, and it would seem that Webb's animus towards the Bush administration has skewed his judgment."
It is clear that there was a fair degree of conscious deception by the Administration in leading us into Iraq.
10.7.2008 3:34am
Mr. Bingley (www):
I would suggest that any Member of Congress who has served on the budget committees has proven him/her self to be quite a prolific author of fiction.
10.7.2008 8:49am
John M. Perkins (mail):
Former Oklahoma Senator Fred R. Harris has written novels: Coyote's Revenge
Easy Pickin's
Following the Harvest.

Our family read out loud, Coyote's Revenge. It's a good historical mystery.
10.7.2008 2:15pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
Hmmm, Coyote's Revenge won the Nero Award, so I'm not the only one who liked it.

http://www.nerowolfe.org/htm/neroaward/awardees_chron.htm
10.7.2008 2:54pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Rep. Neal Abercrombie of Hawaii co-wrote a murder mystery, tepidly reviewed.

My great great-uncle Waddy Thompson wrote "Memoirs of Mexico," which is considered an important document in Texas history, before being elected to Congress from South Carolin.

Henry A. Wallace was one of the most important scientists (plant breeding) of the 20th c., and although he never got elected to Congress, he was vice president.
10.7.2008 10:58pm
Mikeyes (mail):
Hoover wrote the book on fishing, TR wrote several books on hunting and on about everything else - he has over 50 books to his credit.
10.8.2008 2:52pm
Michael Amper:
For what it's worth, I picked up "Fields of Fire" when I was in my teenage years in the 1980's, back when the Vietnam experience wasn't so far removed from the status of current events. The book was very well-written, and I feel it helped me to understand a lot more about the lives of those who served in that conflict.

I'm glad that Mr. Webb in in his office, though I am not one of his constituents. He's one of the few people in Washington who has first hand experience of both sides of the aisle, and I feel his judgment will prove sound.
10.9.2008 1:21pm