What’s At Stake in Alabama

Are we “really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice” or are we “forever destined to depend for [our] political constitutions on accident and force.” That’s the question Alexander Hamilton asked during the fight to ratify the Constitution. And the special election in Alabama should cause us to ask it again.

The question: “How will we govern ourselves?” is thrown into stark relief in 2017. The answer is what’s at stake in the Alabama U.S. Senate race. In both our legal system and in politics, will we be driven by innuendo and accusation or by due process?

The primary between Roy Moore and Luther Strange was a spirited contest between two ideological factions battling for control of the Republican Party. Moore won. But coverage of the general election campaign between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones has focused on salacious claims against Moore stemming from events alleged to have occurred nearly 40 years ago.

The timing of the claims—they have never surfaced during any of Moore’s prior statewide (and similarly controversial) campaigns and did not come up during the primary—makes their motivation and perhaps their veracity suspect. But this is not a defense for Roy Moore or an excuse for or justification of what he is accused of doing in the late 1970s. I have no way of knowing what happened in rural Alabama all those years ago. And neither does anyone else who was not directly involved.

What is apparent, however, is that accusing Moore after the primary was designed to kill his candidacy and prevent the Republican Party from choosing a replacement—thus handing the precious Senate seat to Jones, who would have absolutely no chance of winning otherwise. Alabama went for Donald Trump by 28 points, after all. Dirty tricks are nothing new in politics. But this level of cynicism is destructive of republican government because it consciously seeks to deprive the citizens of Alabama of a senator who would accurately reflect their political principles.

Candidate Calculus
Voters are generally sensible of their own interests if given time to reflect and to allow inflamed passions to cool. Alabama voters considering their options should be running a not-too-complex calculation. Two candidates are vying for the opportunity to represent them in the United States Senate. The job for voters is to determine who will best represent their interests and beliefs. Of course, they must also consider whether the candidate is up to the job.  

Now add in also, the fact that there are credibility problems with some of the accusers. The principal accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, has admitted forging at least part of Moore’s inscription in her high school yearbook which she had previously used as the sole piece of physical evidence supporting her claim.

Moore has denied signing the yearbook from the beginning. What’s more, Nelson’s stepson, a Moore supporter, says, “I know for a fact that there is a lot that that woman does not tell the truth on. Do I think that Beverly is trustworthy? No, I really don’t. Could I see her making it up? . . . The odds are in that favor.

Before deciding, voters must compare everything known and claimed about Roy Moore against what they know about Doug Jones. He supports the Democrats’ entire cultural Marxist agenda, including Obamacare, restricting free speech and the Second Amendment, and expanding government-funded abortions. Right down the line, Jones would be an energetic supporter of the entire Schumer-Pelosi agenda.

So voters must ask themselves, which is worse: what Roy Moore is accused of but denies doing in his private life 40 years ago, or what Doug Jones promises to do to the country today?

The answer for most Alabama Republicans is obvious which is why Moore maintains a very tight lead over Jones, according to the RealClearPolitics poll average. Still, most people—even those with strong political beliefs—want to see justice done and do not wish to “reward” a potentially bad man. But I submit that thinking in these terms is missing the larger point of justice. An election is not about rewarding or punishing any particular man. Justice, in this case, has multiple parties with claims deserving consideration. The focus has been on the private matter of Judge Moore and his accusers, but the citizens of Alabama and of the country also have a claim for justice in this election that in most ways supersedes, or at least preempts, the others.

Voters also realize—better than our public intellectuals—that justice requires a process focused on a full airing of facts and time to assess them in context. The Roy Moore hit job—and that’s what it was whether the allegations turn out to be true or false—was timed and calculated precisely to avoid a full airing of facts. It sought political advantage, not the truth. Rewarding that would also be a miscarriage of justice.

Passions Versus Interests
The attempt to whip emotions in the closing weeks of the election when another candidate could not take Moore’s place even if one was wanted, is a cynical attempt to deprive the people of Alabama of a senator that fairly represents their views.

While many Alabama Republicans may fairly disapprove of Moore’s actions while he was single, they also see someone who appears to have lived a life of personal probity since then and, much more important, someone who will represent their interests and beliefs in Washington. That’s what every election is about. Elections are very rarely a referendum primarily on the character or piety of the candidate. If they were, who could withstand the scrutiny?

Emotional manipulation in the closing weeks of a campaign is an attempt to use the passions to take what cannot be won with reason and persuasion. If the political or legal process uncovers facts that upon mature reflection demand it, Moore could be expelled from the Senate or by voters at the next election. In the meantime, voters just want to know what’s in it for them and they’ll choose the candidate who can give it to them. That’s the way it should be.

Observers who want to condemn Moore based on so-far unproven accusations think the election is about him and his character. Voters know better. It isn’t. It’s about how the senator they elect will vote.

Rare is the citizen who is looking to the elected class for role models. They just want their will done. And for the 65 percent of Alabama voters that backed Donald Trump last year, that means relying upon reflection and choice, trusting our institutions to do justice, and voting for the candidate the represents their views.

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About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk