by Jordan Poyner
Conservative voters in Alabama will face a difficult decision on Tuesday, December 12th. In a special election for the Senate seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, many Alabamians will feel themselves forced to choose between Democratic candidate Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore–a man who has been publicly accused of sexual assault by two women (one of whom would have been a minor when the alleged assault occurred). The consequences of this election for partisan politics are high: if Democrats win a previously unimaginable victory in a deeply Red state like Alabama, their path to a Senate majority in 2018 becomes significantly clearer. Democratic control of the Senate would likely result in the freezing of President Trump’s policy agenda by a totally uncooperative majority. Yet the costs for Republicans of a Moore victory might be higher still.
If the accusations against Roy Moore are true, then his election to the U.S. Senate will constitute the victory of an unapologetic liar and sexual predator. To date, nine women have come forward with stories of Moore’s romantic or sexual pursuit of them. Of these nine accounts of Moore’s conduct, seven involve women who would have been in high school at the time of the alleged incidents. In each of these occasions Moore would have been over the age of thirty, and already a successful lawyer for the state of Alabama. Moore’s predatory behavior has been corroborated by a retired Alabama police officer, shopping mall employees, and some of the women’s high school classmates. Gadsden County (where Moore was born and held positions as district attorney and circuit judge) residents claim that Moore’s tendency to pursue underage girls was common knowledge.
Yet many conservative leaders and institutions remain steadfast in their support of Moore or silent in their opposition. President Trump recently endorsed Moore, claiming that his vote is needed to advance the Republican political agenda, and the Republican National Committee has reestablished financial support for Moore’s campaign after initially denying funds in the wake of the accusations. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly declared that he believes the women and stated that Moore should “step aside,” he–like many other Republican leaders–has shifted his tone, recently communicating that Alabamians should “make the call” about whether to send Roy Moore to the Senate. Given the implications of a Democratic victory in Alabama, endorsement of Moore or cautiousness in expressing aversion to his candidacy might be understood as a capitulation to political necessity. As with Donald Trump’s presidential bid in 2016, the consequences of failing to elect a candidate that many feel to be a political ally (despite being personally objectionable) are ostensibly too great for conservative voters to oppose him.
Pro-Trump political theorists, such as Michael Anton (or Publius Decius Mus, as some might know him), have urged us to take seriously the toll of Liberal control of institutional politics. According to them, the continued advancement of the Left’s policies on trade, immigration, and governmental scope will spell the end of our American republic and the disappearance of its most cherished ideals. Their proposed counteraction to this possibility is the election of a self-centered, anti-intellectual, reality television star whose instinctive affinity for the founding American principles we are meant to take on faith, despite all evidence to the contrary. Advocates for Trump or Moore, who admit to finding these men’s candidacies imperfect and their private actions repugnant, have acted (and argued) as if America were in a Gothamesque dilemma: absent the hero we need, we must look to and accept the hero our corrupt republic deserves. We should, in both Trump and Moore’s cases, accept that the exigencies of the current political situation demand effective–and electable–political actors with the necessary ideological dispositions, and our other concerns must simply be sidelined.
This argument, however, betrays the most fundamental principles of conservatism, which, above all else, hold there to be certain inalienable truths or conditions that must be taken into account by social beings. Chief among these are an enduring moral law and the possibility of truth as a concrete facet of experience. According to nearly every contemporary conservative conception of the former, an adult man in a position of power who habitually attempts to seduce or take advantage of teenage girls is a sexual predator. And a serious consideration of the latter suggests that Moore is likely to have done many (if not all) of the things he has been accused of.
Though Moore has publicly denied any and all wrongdoing, he has done so without offering serious rebuttals to the statements made by his accusers. Declarations by an attorney representing Moore that Beverly Nelson lied about having contact with Moore after being assaulted by him have been shown to be false. And in an open letter to Fox News host Sean Hannity, Moore can muster no defense beyond asserting his achievements as a family man (married for 33 years “with four children and five granddaughters”) and past Deputy District Attorney, Circuit Judge, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. If Moore is correct in his affirmations of innocence, he will have been the target of an immense and incredibly well-coordinated smear campaign the likes of which have never before been seen in an American election.
Imagine what it would take to pull such a strategy off and the consequences if it were to backfire. Democratic party affiliates or Liberal activists would have to find nine women who could plausibly claim to have been in contact with Roy Moore as teenagers, and convince them all to publicly lie about their relationships with him. Furthermore, innumerable supporting anecdotes and corroborating accounts would then need to be released piecemeal by a variety of news sources (not merely the New York Times or the Washington Post). All this to contest a Senate seat which a Democrat would be unlikely to win even had Moore informally resigned his candidacy. If such a plot were undertaken, its discovery would spell disaster not only for the credibility of the Democratic Party, but also for any political or cultural efforts to emphasize women’s accounts of sexual misconduct.
Those who advocate for the election of virtueless men as a rearguard action against the otherwise assured victory of the Left would sacrifice virtue for the sake of a political doctrine which can only have its fullest meaning when accompanied by virtue. A purported Straussian in his own right, Anton has failed to take seriously political philosopher Leo Strauss’s indictment of Machiavelli, whose teachings would produce citizens “who, in case of conflict between their fatherland and their souls, […] would prefer their fatherland.” For them, virtue has been redefined in terms of the pursuit of practicable political goals. Everything done effectively in the name of these is good and virtue becomes nothing more than “civic virtue, patriotism, or devotion to the collective selfishness.” Surely this cannot be the sum total of all that conservatism hopes to uphold.
Conservatives and Christians, the two crucial demographics Roy Moore will appeal to on December 12th, are called to higher virtues than the advancement of the Republican leadership’s political agenda. Both are called to consider St. Augustine’s definition of virtue as love rightly ordered: that is, the willingness to choose a good which is great and proper over a paltry good. Though they may be healthy political objectives, tax reform, border security, and military strength are not great and proper goods. Furthermore, republicanism and federalism are only distinctly good when they propagate the highest virtues, when they are conducive to courage, integrity, and selfless love. A conservatism which hopes to foster such virtues, while electing to its leadership a man accused of making repeated, inappropriate romantic and sexual advances towards minors–and then lying about it–is incomprehensible.
If Roy Moore is innocent of the accusations against him and all the public accounts of his actions incorrect, then his defeat in Tuesday’s election will be the culmination of a vicious and far-reaching campaign of defamation which has unfairly deprived Moore of a continued political career. But if even a portion of these allegations are true, his election to the Senate would constitute a shameful prioritization by Alabamian voters of institutional control over an insistence on moral character in their elected officials. Claims by Republican leaders that Alabamians must make their own choice in the upcoming election are merely attempts to avoid addressing the true moral dilemma inherent in that decision. One way or another, Alabamians will make their choice: they alone will vote in their election and no entity threatens to mitigate their right to do so or to compel them to choose any candidate over another.
So, like all citizens of democracy, they must seriously consider the ramifications of casting their votes. If they elect Roy Moore, we will continue to have local and national conversations on what the necessary burden of proof is for women who claim to have been the victims of sexual assault. Moore is not a defendant in a court of law and, thus far, there is not enough evidence to convict him of a crime were he on trial. But election to public office requires other kinds of discernment. Voters must consider questions of justice, as well as virtue. Roy Moore may be the best available candidate for achieving certain political ends, but the achievement of these ends will constitute a pyrrhic victory if true goodness is sacrificed for the sake of a lesser kind. It is not enough for conservatives to direct and control the apparatus of government in accord with their beliefs, they must strive to live decently, to remain moral in an immoral world. Casting a vote for Roy Moore while accepting the possibility that he is a sexual predator is antithetical to these aims.
Jordan Poyner is a recent graduate of Indiana University, where he studied English literature, film theory, art, and anthropology.
- Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites, “Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32,” The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Nov. 9, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/woman-says-roy-moore-initiated-sexual-encounter-when-she-was-14-he-was-32/2017/11/09/1f495878-c293-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html.
- Anna Claire Vollers, “New Roy Moore accuser: ‘He didn’t pinch it; he grabbed it’,” AL.com, Nov. 15, 2017, http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/11/new_roy_moore_accuser_he_didnt.html.
- Elizabeth Elizalde, “Alabama cop had to watch Roy Moore in case he harassed cheerleaders at ball games in the 80s,” New York Daily News (New York City), Nov. 21, 2017, http://www.nydailynews.com/amp/news/politics/ex-ala-prevent-roy-moore-harassing-cheerleaders-article-1.3648980.
- Anna Claire Vollers, “Gadsden locals say Moore’s predatory behavior at mall, restaurants not a secret,” AL.com, Nov. 14, 2017, http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/11/gadsden_residents_say_moores_b.html.
- Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites, “Two more women describe unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at Alabama mall,” The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Nov. 15, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/two-more-women-describe-unwanted-overtures-by-roy-moore-at-alabama-mall/2017/11/15/2a1da432-ca24-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html.
- Scott Detrow and Jessica Taylor, “RNC Restores Financial Support For Roy Moore As Trump Gives Full Endorsement,” NPR, Dec. 4, 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/12/04/568274917/removing-any-qualifications-trump-endorses-roy-moore.
- Seung Min Kim and John Bresnahan, “Moore expulsion idea splits Senate Republicans,” Politico, Nov. 13, 2017, https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/13/mcconnell-i-believe-the-women-accusing-roy-moore-244840.
- Richard Fausset, Alan Blinder and Jonathan Martin, “Roy Moore Gets Trump Endorsement and R.N.C. Funding for Senate Race,” The New York Times (New York City), Dec. 4, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/us/politics/roy-moore-donald-trump.html.
- Publius Decius Mus, “The Flight 93 Election,” Claremont Review of Books, Sep. 5, 2016, http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/.
- David Kumbroch and Brian Lawson, “Court records dispute Moore campaign claim that he had additional contact with accuser, presided over her divorce,” WHNT News 19 (Huntsville, AL), Nov. 16, 2017, http://whnt.com/2017/11/16/court-records-dispute-moore-campaign-claim-that-he-had-additional-contact-with-accuser-presided-over-her-divorce/.
- Moore, Roy. Twitter Post. November 15, 2017, 3:57 PM. https://twitter.com/MooreSenate/status/930947969012158464.
- Strauss, Leo, An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays by Leo Strauss, ed. Hilail Gildin (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989), 46.
- Ibid., 42.
- Augustine of Hippo, The City of God XV.22.