April 4, 2006 | Commentary on Political Thought
"Why are you here?" I asked, only half joking.
James Swanson -- overnight sensation and best-selling author of Manhunt: The Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, grinned as he continued to sort the papers in his office on a Friday afternoon, which also happened to be the prettiest spring day at the height of cherry blossom season in Washington, D.C.
If ever there were a guy you wouldn't expect to find at the office on such a perfect afternoon, it would be a guy who has just made seven figures from his book and movie advances alone.
Without hesitation, James responded, "I believe in the cause." In other words, his work at The Heritage Foundation where our vision is to, "Create an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish."
The response deserves a bit of reflection: there he was, while his book was on The New York Times Best Sellers list for seventh week in a row -- toiling away at a non-profit organization when he could have been, well, just about anywhere else in the world living it up.
The nonchalant answer typifies James -- a man committed to what he loves, which are all things constitutional, all things conservative, and all things Lincoln -- and gives insight into why he enjoys enormous success in both his "day job" and with his first book.
His commitment to the rule of law, the fight to protect the constitution and plain 'ole hard work have twice landed him a position with one of the most brilliant legal minds in the nation -- former Attorney General and now Heritage Foundation Reagan Fellow, Edwin Meese.
James' life-long personal interest in the assassination of Lincoln has inspired him to assemble one of the great collections of authentic Lincoln artifacts and memorabilia, including the playbill from Ford's Theater the night the president was shot and a piece of an actress' dress stained with his blood.
His quest for truth -- the hunger to know every detail, to learn every move, to scour clippings, letters, government reports, trial records and countless archives for tidbits on the fallen president and the search for his killer, has enabled James not to just write about history, but to take the reader on a journey so vivid and real you actually believe you are part of the posse.
James and his book stand in stark contrast to Gore Vidal and his widely read fictional work, Lincoln. Vidal's anti-American, anti-conservative, anti-reality persona and his "historical fiction" account of Lincoln have somehow made it into the curriculum of high school history. Yes, that's right. A fiction book is being taught in history classes.
It is distressing that a self-proclaimed work of "historical fiction" that has no authenticity save the basic storyline is studied and taught to students whose active imaginations and historical ignorance leave plenty of room for the twisted work to become firmly implanted in the mind as fact.
We can only hope that high schools don't start teaching some of Vidal's other theories, such as that the Bush administration may have allowed the 9/11 attacks so it could invade Afghanistan. "Osama was chosen on aesthetic grounds to be the frightening logo for our long-contemplated invasion and conquest of Afghanistan," Vidal wrote in 2002.
Manhunt is a preferred alternative that teaches both literary skills and details of history as it captivates students and makes the past come alive.
The conservative value it represents is the insatiable quest for the facts of our nation's great history so that we can both learn from our past and best understand the underpinning values from those who came before us. Vidal, like so many liberals in academia these days, seems hell-bent on redefining both history and our nation's culture.
James Swanson, on the other hand, is committed to America's foundational values, as expressed in documents such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. That's why he works so hard, studying those documents and explaining them to others, adhering to the original intent of the authors - there is no place for revisionist history in his world. He knows that our future very much depends on how we apply the lessons learned from both the ugly and sublime events and people of our true history.
Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation and the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.