He’s a longshot, but it’s time to take a stand
Roy Moore is probably going to be the next senator from Alabama and that’s true no matter what the Democratic Party says or does about it.
Alabama is, for starters, Alabama. Jeff Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship by the United States Senate on the grounds that he was too racist, and a couple of years later Alabama Republicans nominated him for a Senate seat and he won. There’s no reason at all to think that Moore can’t follow that same trail he’s blazed. Beyond that, America is a much more polarized place that it was in the 1980s. If you want Republicans to run the show in Washington — and clearly most Alabamians do — it more or less makes sense to vote for anyone the GOP nominates over anyone the Democrats nominate.
All that being said, Moore is flagrantly unfit for office. Doug Jones is a very solid nominee for the Democratic party and its informal leaders have an obligation to vigorously contest the race. If there were a dozen — or even three — other senate races happening simultaneously it would make sense to let the gods of targeting have their way and direct resources elsewhere. But there’s only one senate race happening right now, and campaign money is not a purely fixed quantity.
Jones will almost certainly lose no matter what anyone does. But the people of Alabama — and, frankly, the country — deserve to see a real fight in which Jones has enough cash to run ads, hire field staff, and otherwise mount a vigorous campaign. There’s no need to raise false hopes or unduly elevate expectations, but it would be a huge mistake to take a dive here.
Roy Moore is dangerously unfit for office
Let me just quote for you an exchange that Moore had with my colleague Jeff Stein:
Some right-wing conservatives think Sharia law is a danger to America — do you?
There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities; I don’t know if they may be Muslim communities.
But Sharia law is a little different from American law. It is founded on religious concepts.
Which American communities are under Sharia law? When did they fall under Sharia law?
Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana — up there. I don’t know.
That seems like an amazing claim for a Senate candidate to make.
Well, let me just put it this way — if they are, they are; if they’re not, they’re not.
Donald Trump’s presence in the White House has, to an extent, numbed us to the idea of people holding prominent positions in public life who constantly speak nonsense. Nonetheless, in a society one ought to try to uphold some kind of standards. Illinois is not living under sharia. Neither is Indiana. One hopes that Moore is aware of this and merely peddling some kind of cynical lie but fears that he is speaking from the heart on these subjects. Regardless, it’s an outrageous and absurd thing for a senate candidate to be saying.
And, unfortunately, demonstrable unfitness for office is a hallmark of Moore’s career. His claim to fame is that as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court he defied a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama judicial building. For this he was, rightly, removed from office but he made a comeback as Chief Justice roughly ten years later. He then defied another federal court order by directing probate judges to continue enforcing an Alabama bar on same-sex marriages even though such bans had been overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States. He was, rightly, suspended from office for this but then quit in order to pursue his senate race.
Again, one hopes that Moore recognizes that this kind of lawlessness is an untenable way to govern a society and is merely engaging in cynical stunts out of political ambition. But, again, one fears that he really believes what he’s saying.
Moore has persisted even beyond Trump in calling Barack Obama’s citizenship into question and eleven years ago proposed that Keith Ellison should be barred from serving in the House of Representatives because he’s a Muslim. This kind of open contempt for both the substantive and procedural aspects of the American constitutional order ought to be completely disqualifying for office, even if Moore were otherwise running on smart policy ideas. And he is not.
Moore’s platform is total nonsense
Of course as we learned last November the argument that one’s political opponent is a an unqualified, ignorant bigot only gets you so far in the electoral arena.
So it’s worth underscoring that Moore’s stated positions on the issues would have ruinous consequences for most people’s lives. He calls for “the reduction of taxes at all levels” in the context of “implementing a ‘flat tax’ or a ‘fair tax,’ which is a tax on goods and services purchased instead of a tax on income.” He also says that we “should cut the deficit and balance the budget” and issues standard Republican calls for “smaller government, and less spending” paired, of course, with “a strong military defense” and a bigger military budget.
Taking these ideas seriously would mean an enormous tax windfall for the rich, higher taxes on the poor and the retired, and draconian cutbacks in domestic spending — particularly on programs that help the very same retirees and low-income households whose taxes Moore wants to raise.
As Moore’s Alabama already has the fourth-highest poverty rate in the country and the fourth-lowest median household income, it’s inconceivable that this policy mix would be beneficial to his constituents. Moore supports a “clean repeal” approach to the Affordable Care Act that would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 32 million, wants the military to launch a new round of demoralizing and inhumane witch hunts against LGBT soldiers, and suggests vaguely that we “use our own military to protect our border.”
Beyond that, he has nothing whatsoever to say. There are no ideas to improve the economic outlook for Alabama, get affordable health insurance or college education for more people, create jobs, or in any way improve the life of any normal working- or middle-class person. For all Moore’s hazy anti-establishment posturing, the only clear winners from his agenda are very rich people who have no need for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or public schools and who stand to reap massive financial benefits from replacing the progressive income tax with a new national sales tax.
Doug Jones is a surprisingly good candidate
Given the long odds facing any Democrat in Alabama and the fact that the GOP could easily have nominated a broadly well-qualified candidate instead of Moore, it would be understandable if the party had simply failed to find a reasonable challenger to Moore.
But that’s not the case.
The Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, is a former US Attorney who spearheaded the prosecution of domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph and secured the long-overdue conviction of two Ku Klux Klan members for the murder of four little girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Before that, he served as a staffer in the office of US Senator Howard Heflin.
And while his policy platform isn’t exactly visionary, it does make sense. He says that changes to federal health care policy should aim to make premiums and out-of-pocket costs lower rather than higher, wants to spend more money on education, and says “it is unconscionable to talk about lowering taxes on the wealthy while cutting funding for education, nutrition, childcare, housing and infrastructure.”
To win statewide in Alabama, a Democrat would need to thread the difficult needle of securing a strong black turnout while also appealing to at least a slice of the state’s very conservative white population. A former prosecutor whose tough-on-crime record includes toughness on notorious civil rights criminals offering a modest-but-sensible platform focused on pocketbook issues is probably just about the best Democrats could hope for.
Democrats should run a real race
But Jones, a longshot, hasn’t seen much in the way of financial support from Democrats nationally. Money has trickled in, leaving him with about $250,000 on hand as of the last FEC filings, but as Gabriel Debenedetti and Daniel Strauss reported for Politico on September 1 neither the national party nor grassroots liberals have shown much interest in the race.
This is all understandable on one level. Moore, odious though he is, has won statewide in Alabama more than once in the past so it’s not a promising target for Democrats. And for Jones, of course, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time in DC or trying to court national progressive groups.
Emerson poll released yesterday had Roy Moore leading Dem Doug Jones 52-30% in a general election trial heat. Strange was up 49-36%.
— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) September 27, 2017
But Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi don’t need to parachute into Alabama to make a difference. A few quiet phone calls to key donors suggesting they cut checks to Jones would help. Super PACs and party committees can run ads without direct candidate involvement. Fundraising email lists can be donated. Party-aligned media can be encouraged to talk about the race. Even a stray tweet or two from high-profile figures like Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, or Kamala Harris can make a big difference in terms of putting the race on the map for grassroots activists eager to be in the fight against Trump.
And while Democrats shouldn’t get anyone’s hopes up, they ought to be in the fight.
For starters, the party needs to show that it stands for something and will fight for it even on unfavorable terrain. Moore’s blatant support for unconstitutional religious discrimination, overt hostility to the rule of law, and backing for a grossly regressive tax scheme violate core principles and Democrats ought to be seen as fighting back against this vision everywhere.
Second, if a real race is joined then Republicans nationally will of course do their part to support Moore and in doing so will help further discredit themselves. Letting Moore run without meaningful opposition lets Republicans help themselves to his senate seat without getting his stink on themselves — that would be a mistake.
Last but by no means least, even if Democrats aren’t really in a position to win statewide in Alabama in coming cycles they certainly need to run hard and try in places like Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and even Texas where the demographic balance is more Democratic-friendly but southern cultural identity is still strong. Getting reps running in the South is valuable, and Moore’s unique egregiousness as a candidate makes these reps worth getting.
Hey, you never know
Politics is weird and unpredictable. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for presidency, nobody thought he was going to win. Most people thought he wasn’t even seriously running. Nobody thought Scott Brown could win a senate seat in Massachusetts, and the GOP congressional landslide of 2010 even involved winning an improbable Senate race in Illinois.
Moore himself seemed like a real underdog in the Alabama primary at one point, having lost — rather badly — to establishment Republicans in earlier primary bids for governor and senate. Tuesday night a Democratic candidate won a state legislature special election in New Hampshire in a district Trump carried by 23 points.
Which is just to say that while states and districts have real leans and real tendency, there is an irreducible element of chance and unpredictability to politics. What’s not unpredictable is that Moore would make a bad senator and that it’s an embarrassment to the Alabama Republican Party that they would nominate him for high office. In Jones, Democrats have a worthy candidate. They ought to get behind him in a serious way.