Alabama’s “Son of a Bitch”

By the time most of you read this column, the 2017 senate race in Alabama will be over. If I were a betting man, I’d try and cover my losses from the 2016 presidential election by putting money on Roy Moore. Moore’s supporters say his decades-old pedophilia accusations and widely reported creepy behavior from the eighties should be ignored. To paraphrase FDR, Moore may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is their son-of-a-bitch. Ignoring the mess that policy made in Nicaragua, I have to reluctantly agree with Moore’s supporters. Since the statute of limitations has run out, questionable and illegal behavior from 40 years ago has little bearing on what kind of senator Moore will be today.

Before you heat up the tar and feathers, allow me to assert that: 1. I believe the women 2. His behavior was unacceptable 3. I hope Moore loses. But in the maelstrom of hand-wringing and media coverage of sexual misconduct by men in this country, some nuance and contextual development is needed if the country is to make real progress in this area. All sexual misbehavior is not equal. The actual extent of the assault, the number of offences, and time all need to be taken into consideration. I would find it hard to believe that even the most strident feminists would claim that verbal assault, groping, and actual rape are legally, morally or ethically equivalent. Many hard conversations (featuring more listening than yelling) need to take place if we are to finally move forward and leave our knuckle-dragging ways behind us.

In the case of artists, can we separate the art from the person who created? As I asserted previously in the case of Bill Cosby, I think we can and must: Exhibit A is that Louis CK’s admitted behavior is disgusting. If any legal action can be taken it should be. His fans need to withhold their financial support and the platforms necessary for his art need to be blocked. And yet, his completed body of work needs to be preserved and valued on its own merit, separate from the assaults of the artist. Mass media, starting with newspapers and magazines in the early 2oth century, created a celebrity culture that we haven’t come to grips with. If we like a movie, show, song, or any other form of art, we idolize the person who created it. We make heroes out of sports figures and politicians. We erased the distinction between the doer and the deed. Then, when inevitably, a judgment error is uncovered, we turn on our heroes and toss them aside along with their art. We sometimes make exceptions for sports figures, but only if they play for the team we support.

It wasn’t always so. If we are to truly change the culture so that all sexual assault is unacceptable then degrees of “sin” must be established, punishments must be appropriate, and personality and performance must be kept separate. In the case of Roy Moore, there are many reasons to reject him as a senator and only a few reasons to vote for him. Moore’s stated position that the bible is legally superior to the Constitution disqualifies him for any public office in my opinion. That he claims to be a Republican seems to be the sole basis of his support, at least according to Trump. His faith, no matter how dear to some or distasteful to others shouldn’t really enter into it. But he has support because of his Christian proclamations and people are willing to forgive him on the same grounds. Seems odd to me that a state that rejected John Kennedy because he “would be subject to Vatican ideology” is so willing to elect someone whose disdain for the Constitution and rule of law is evidenced by both word and deed.

How can one claim to be a patriotic American and reject the foundations of the Constitution? It also seems strange to me that so many voters claim that only Republicans can truly represent Southern interests in government. Again, it wasn’t always so. For a century, only Democrats were elected across the South. Putting party over principle is as poor of a political position as making a person more important than their behavior. Rejecting a politician based on party alone is as short-sighted as rejecting them on behavior that is decades old.

And yet, I hope Alabama does just that. Moore is beyond the reach of the legal system. So only the voters can punish him for his past behavior. If they don’t, the whole nation will suffer because of this theocratic reasoning of this misguided man. But no matter what Alabama chooses, we all need to listen more to the women as well as examining male miscreants, separate from their misdeeds. For it is only in that space that justice, as well as a safer society for women, lies.