The Republican Party has decided to back Roy Moore for Congress in Alabama.
I am very conflicted by this, for a few different reasons. I’m conflicted because I can understand why the support has been granted – in a few different ways – and yet I also struggle with the idea that such a person is considered as being tolerable for what should be the primary voice of the people in their own government.
Roy Moore is a judge from Alabama. He’s had an interesting history; he was a Chief Justice for Alabama’s Supreme Court, removed for violating sanctions against the separation of Church and State (first for installing a monument for the Ten Commandments in a state building lobby, and then removed again in a later term for telling judges to enforce a ban on same-sex marriage that had been deemed unconstitutional.)
He’s made multiple attempts at Alabama’s Senate seat; in the current (as of 2017) race, he’s trying to win the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions upon Sessions’ promotion in Trump’s administration. His opponent was endorsed by President Trump (and the larger part of the national Republican Party) but Moore won despite the lack of national popular support.
Based on his two removals from the State Supreme Court and his founding of the Foundation for Moral Law, he believes in a code that supercedes United States law, and I assume that means a sort of Christian moral code.
I do not know if he believes that Christian ethics should serve as the basis for United States law. I think it’s fair to assume that he thinks it already does, but I don’t know if he thinks it should be encoded as law; the ban on same-sex marriage (despite unconstitutionality) makes me think he does. I have thoughts on that, but not in this section.
He’s a Birther – one of those people, like President Trump, who asserted that President Obama was not born in the United States and therefore was not a legal candidate for his office.
He’s apparently one who, um, pursues women (or sexually harasses them, which is probably a more proper term); there have been a lot of claims lately (backed by evidence) that he’s pursued women who were underage legally (or barely legal in some cases). He has offered various defenses against these claims; many of his supporters have rationalized this pursuit in various ways. Some of those ways have been defensible (if not exactly reassuring, or effective, or even “good”); others have not.
First off, Roy Moore repels me. I am not in Alabama, and I have no vote to offer him or his opponent, but I can say with all honesty and fervor that his opponent would have to be an incredible cretin for me to consider voting for Moore. (I don’t know much about his opponent, other than that he’s a Democrat; if he was a jerk, surely the GOP would be shouting “He’s a terrible person too!” and since they’re not doing that, I assume Moore’s opponent is an actual human.)
With that said, there are positive and negative reactions to Moore – mine may be horribly negative, but I can rationalize the positive reactions as well (even if I don’t find them convincing). Some of the positive reactions I find to be spurious and would be embarrassed to echo them; some of the negative reactions I find to be similarly ignorant of some harsh realities (even though I, too, have those same negative reactions.)
Let’s cover the positive reactions first. They’re shorter, and probably need less explanation.
Being For Moore
There are a few reasons to be pro-Moore, that I can see. One is political expediency (with two primary variations), another is raw party affiliation, another is personal association.
In one sense, political expediency is a matter of saying “We’d rather have a GOP vote in the Senate rather than a Democratic vote.” Moore isn’t a “normal Republican” but as we’ve seen in the 2016 Presidential election, that’s not much of a problem for the GOP these days; Trump isn’t a “normal Republican” either. (In fact, he’s more of a “normal Democrat” but had an easier path to power in the GOP.)
I don’t really like this, but I understand it; the party lines are drawn so severely that on controversial issues Senators seem more likely to vote with their party rather than based on actual conviction. (I’m aware that there are some blurred lines here; in many cases the conviction matches the party line.) Moore is more likely to vote with the GOP than with the Democrats, so the GOP has little choice but to continue its pursuit of power. “Better an ally you despise than an enemy you respect,” is one way of thinking of it.
In another sense, political expediency is based on the actual issues Moore has stood for – and paid for – historically. His personal morals aside, he’s taken a hard stance for the Ten Commandments, for example (losing his seat over it); the same is true for same-sex marriage. For many of his potential constituents, these are easy things to support (“What’s wrong with the Ten Commandments?” and “Why do them gays want to get married anyway?” along with the various conflicts such changes imply. Nobody wants to be told what they should endure, even if “enduring” those things matters very little.)
So for a significant part of the voting populace, voting for Moore might not be all that important, compared to voting for someone who will support the things the voters support, like the Ten Commandments. (Most voters don’t see how a monument with the Decalogue on it is “establishing a state religion,” and I personally agree with them; if someone put up a monument with Islam’s equivalent I could appreciate it without feeling like I was being pressured to be a Muslim.)
Worth noting: I’m not advocating for the Ten Commandments (although I’m Jewish, and therefore they’re pretty important to me). I’m also not against same-sex marriages. Personally, I think if people want to get married, let them; I would, however, say that forcing private businesses to support those marriages against the religious convictions of the owners is wrong. Homosexuals can and should be a protected class in many arenas, but this is not one of them. A church that has a forceful belief against homosexuality should not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages; likewise, a bakery whose owner feels that same-sex marriages are an affront against God shouldn’t be forced to bake for a given wedding. Let them miss out on the business instead.
Another reason to support Moore is because he’s running on the Republican ticket and not on the side of those “Godless Democrats” – party affiliation, straight up. This one ignores actual actions or voting points, and just focuses on party; I know people who vote this way for both parties (“Which one’s the Democrat? I’m voting for him… or her, whichever.”) I find this reason for voting to be idiotic. I’d rather not vote than choose to vote based on party alone.
(I’m not perfect in this regard… but I do try to at least determine something about a candidate before voting for him or her. At the very worst, I’ll choose voting for the challenger just to create churn in government. I’ve done it; I’m not proud of it; I’m trying to be honest about it. I also try to do better than that whenever I can.)
Personal association is probably the easiest to understand: it’s people who know Moore and identify with him (maybe they voted for him, maybe they’re from his neck of the woods, maybe they know him personally or attend his church or something?) These people vote for the person they know, more than based on political idealism or on issues. This is the same kind of reason one might vote for a family member, even though you might disagree on some core issues.
Being Against Moore
The reasons to vote against Moore… this what I imagine shooting fish in a barrel would be like.
The reasons I can think of being against Moore: party affiliation (which is as dumb a reason to be against Moore as it is to be for him), political expediency… and then there are the actual reasons to be against Moore specifically, which are his actual ideals, his ability to get along with others (his statesmanship), and his personal behavior and response to his own flaws.
One can be against Moore for many of the same reasons one can be for him, of course; maybe you vote the straight Democratic ticket (which is just as dumb, in my mind, as voting the straight Republican ticket simply because you’re a Republican.) Maybe you know the political opponent; maybe you identify more strongly with the Democrat, politically speaking. These are valid reasons, even if one of them is S-T-U-P-I-D dumb. (Namely, the “I vote for a Democrat, always” – that one’s dumb. No matter what party you vote for, that’s stupid. Stop doing that. It’s dumb if you vote Republican, it’s dumb if you vote Democrat.)
I wouldn’t vote for Moore personally because of his inability to separate the Constitution from his idea of a Moral Law. That’s not to say that I don’t think there is a Moral Law – I do. But it is separate from the Constitution and the two coincide but do not serve each other.
For example, same-sex marriage… it is Constitutional, whether one likes it or not (or even if you feel like marriage shouldn’t be an issue for the State to decide.) Once it’s been determined as being legally Constitutional, the discussion of enforcement stops, in the judicial and executive sense. It might still be a legislative issue, but it’s not a legal concern, whether an individual feels like it is or not. Moore’s edict to ban same-sex marriage despite its Constitutional status violates his role, crucially.
He has every right to campaign against same-sex marriage, in the legislative sense. He has every right to disapprove of same-sex marriage, to speak against it in his private life, to feel whatever he feels… but as a Supreme Court Justice, his public stance must be and has to be to support the Constitution.
His inability to separate his mandated neutrality from his personal views makes him a poor Justice and would make him a poor Senator. He needs to represent everyone he serves, not just the ones who voted for him. That means supporting those same-sex couples in his constituency, too, as well as any Muslims, Jews, atheists, Sikhs, or any other such people regardless of faith or lack of it. As it is, I find it difficult to believe he’d actively protect the rights of people who don’t believe as he does.
His personal behavior, though, adds an exclamation point to the “don’t vote Moore” sentiment. He’s been accused of pursuing women whom most would consider underage, in some cases even legally so. His reactions have been defensive in nature, and many of his supporters have tried to justify his predatory nature, using some arguments I find abhorrent.
I have yet to see him accept his past behavior (if it even is solely in the past, the actions of a younger man who was unwise?) and I haven’t seen him offer a redemptive narrative – and I think a redemptive narrative is necessary.
That means that all of these people saying “Joseph was much older than Mary” are enabling such behavior, accepting and excusing it, even though if an older man were to pursue their own young daughters they’d probably be reaching for a shotgun.
If it’s not okay if it happens to you or your family, it’s not okay if it happens to someone else or their family. That’s the thing these people are missing, it seems. And if it’s actually not something they’d reject, well… maybe their licenses to parent should be revoked.
I’m aware that this is a cultural norm that is fairly recent in nature; as little as one hundred years ago, such May-December romances would have been considered more mainstream. That’s fine; I’m not saying that an older man paired with a younger woman, in context, is in itself wrong (although it can be, regardless of time period; a man of thirty should never, ever, ever marry a woman of… eight. If the lady in question is prepubescent, that’s… gross and I can’t countenance it.)
But whether the norm is recent or not, it’s still the norm. It’s not something that’s done today or should be done today; even if you find people you respect or like who’ve done it in the past (Jimmy Page, Elvis Presley) it’s still not something you do. (See also: Glitter, Gary.)
It’s not that I think that his past behavior necessarily invalidates his candidacy; I think that people are able to be redeemed through their acceptance and their behavior. If he had owned it and accepted it as a failing in his past, and had done better since, he might be considered as redeemed and the issue would be far less critical than it is. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, he’s been unable to accept censure for behavior that most people, including those who generally believe the same things he does, find reprehensible.
A man who’s been banned from a mall for gross behavior should have done everything he could to address that publicly … at the time. It was too late to address it once he started running for Senate, and he hasn’t really bothered.
The problem I’m having is one of context.
Moore is a jerk. I don’t think I could vote for him.
But at the same time… people are jerks. People are awful. There are few such paragons of behavior that even in their times they couldn’t be censured for being terrible, much less in our own time.
Look at George Washington: a man whose behavior was nearly impeccable, a President so beloved that political opposition was nearly entirely pro forma. (“We can’t have him unopposed… can we?”) Yet today we excoriate his memory – the man without whom we’d not have a country so free that we even are allowed to resent him – for owning slaves. (He owned them; he set them free upon his death; from what I understand he treated them humanely. He still owned slaves.)
In his time, slave ownership was seen as distasteful by some, but not many; for most it was a necessity for a man of wealth and means. But today it makes him anathema.
If you look at most other historical figures, you’d find even time-relative flaws; this one carried on an affair with his mistress against cultural norms even of his time, that one blackballed an enemy, this other one stole advances from his commercial rival, and this fellow created a monopoly to prevent that one from taking business from him. It’s nearly impossible to travel the seats of power without stepping on toes of some sort.
My concern is that Roy Moore is suffering from a lack of perspective; in fifty years, we might roll his eyes about his skirt-chasing, but not recoil in horror as we do in this moment. (I’m imagining an extremely unlikely future where he turns out to be a giant of statesmanship.) That’s more or less the Clinton effect; we’d say that his sexual harassment was awful, yes, but look at all the good he did!
I don’t know how to fix this, either. My fear is that sometimes you need an axe to get something done, and sometimes that axe is unpleasant.
Yet I’d still be unable to vote for Moore.