So Doug Jones won a closely contested Alabama special election the other night.
On the one hand I want to cheer. Roy Moore is a walking, talking representation of the worst traits of not just the Republican Party … and specifically the so called “Religious” Right … but of humanity. A representation of the far right wing id that somehow, purely through the chance he doesn’t believe possible, congealed into human form. I couldn’t be happier that (hopefully) I will never have to hear his name or see his face again, and after writing this will never have to talk about the man again.
But on the other hand, some of the biggest concerns I expressed a couple of months ago about this development are already starting to come true. I was concerned that Democrats would take away the wrong message from this victory like they did from Virginia. And they seem to be.
Pundits are calling this a repudiation of Trump. Pundits are calling this a surge of support for Democrats. They’re saying this was as a result of a “highly mobilized” Democratic base. They’re saying that this is a harbinger of a Democratic tide and that the Senate is actually in play in 2018 now.
And it is this narrative that is going to shape the coming election season and the strategies implemented by the Democratic Party.
And I believe it’s wrong.
It’s the kind of narrative that leads the Democratic rank and file to believe there were no mitigating factors here. It’s all about Trump. And it denies all other aspects of this race. It feeds into the impression that Trump will win elections across the country for Democrats all on his lonesome.
In other words, it feeds into Trump Derangement Syndrome.
It’s the kind of narrative that’ll have younger Democrats go back to smoking pot and playing Call of Duty and forgetting there was an election going on because Democrats’ve “got this.” Kinda like they “had” the 2016 election. We are talking about events that are a year from now after all.
And perhaps worst of all, this is a narrative that obfuscates the fact that additional messaging and ideological work needs to be done by the Democratic Party.
It’s incredibly convenient and easy this narrative of the media pundits, I’ll give it that. And the constant focus on the sexual misconduct of Moore plays right into this strangely delusional idea the left seems to have that somehow the sexual harassment hysteria sweeping the nation will damage the Republicans and not the Democrats. (Check out the recent events surrounding Kansas’ House seat for a prime example of what a double edged sword this is going to be. Oh and, Mr. Franken … anything to add here?)
But the big take-away from the Alabama win has little to do with Moore’s repellent politics. Unfortunately.
It has little to do with Moore’s “alleged” dalliances with young teenage girls. Aside of course from the suppressive effect this had on enthusiasm for Moore as a candidate among Republicans in Alabama, some of whom, I assume, are good people.
And most importantly, it has nothing to do with Trump.
As reprehensive as his politics and the allegations of pedophilia are, Moore still almost won this election.
With over 1.3 million votes cast, Moore lost by fewer than 21,000 votes. For those paying attention that’s fewer than the write in votes. Yes, yes I know Alabama is a deep red state. But neither Sessions nor Heflin before him were nutjob extremists that Alabamans deserve to be mocked for electing. But today, hatred of leftists was enough to make many Alabamans support a candidate who was far, Far, FAR worse than Donald Trump was in 2016 on every metric, and nearly win with him.
The fact is, it is the African American vote that carried Jones to victory. Not the “Democratic” vote. African Americans make up only 26% of Alabama’s total population. Yet they made up 29% of the voters who cast their vote on Tuesday. More African American men and women turned out to vote against Moore than turned out to vote for Barack Obama in 2012.
I think it’s a mistake to think this had anything to do with anything other than Roy Moore.
He was a spectacularly bad candidate under any circumstances. But he was especially bad if you happened to be black in Alabama. While Jones’ prosecution of KKK members likely had some impact, by and large it’s less likely they turned out to support Jones and more likely it was to oppose Moore. To oppose Moore in a way they didn’t turn out to oppose Trump. And in a way they won’t be turning out in North Dakota and Montana and all of the other contests on the ballot … unless the Republicans try to run another Roy Moore. And I don’t think another example of his poor caliber exists. Anywhere. But even if Roy Moore Redux is out there somewhere, good luck marshaling the African American vote to save the Democrats in Montana and North Dakota.
I’m highly skeptical that African Americans are more disgusted by pedophilia than white men and women. And with all of the focus on Moore’s pedophilia allegations, the fact that he’s kind of a racist and up front about it seemed to fall by the wayside. But I’m betting if you were a black man or woman in Alabama it didn’t fall by the wayside for you. And that’s the more important story here.
And before anybody criticizes me for nitpicking, I’ll just point out it was the Democrats’ disconnect from reality on these events that got us into this situation in the first place.
Putting aside the way he fought efforts to remove segregationist language from the Alabama state constitution (he had non racist reasons that involved property taxes … trust him!) Roy Moore actually said this at a rally in September:
“I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another …Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”
That’s not just a stupid comment. That’s the comment of a man who has never spent any time thinking about things from the perspective of people with a different color skin than his own, despite living in a state where he was surrounded by them. It’s the kind of ignorant comment that rubs salt in open wounds by refusing to acknowledge the role the white man had (and still in some cases has…) in destroying the black family unit in America. And it’s the comment of a man who ignores that the direction our country had during slavery was rushing headlong to the most devastating war in American history and the subsequent 100 years of Jim Crow legislation in places like … drumroll… Alabama.
And here’s the third hand if you’re keeping track, and why my personal joy at seeing Moore flushed out of the political sphere is somewhat muted.
This was a pyrrhic victory for the Democrats.
If Roy Moore had won the Senate seat, it actually might have been a harbinger of a blue tide in 2018. The Democrats would have been able to tie Roy Moore to the Republicans and by extension to Donald Trump and run against him in every election across the United States. The media would have set up tents outside Roy Moore’s house to capture everything the man had to say and broadcast it far and wide. And unlike the way they do with Trump they wouldn’t have had to use creative license to have an impact.
I understand why Democrats and especially African Americans in Alabama couldn’t stand the idea of Moore being their representative.
And it’s likely the Democrats will still take back at least the House and lead to more gridlock in our government (which will benefit no one more than Trump.)
But the fact is, Jones’ singular vote in opposition to the Republican agenda in Congress is far less impactful than the complete destruction of the worst elements of the Republican agenda that would have occurred had Moore won the election. Moore would have been a godsend for the liberal causes I espouse.
And man I gotta admit, I woulda had fun carving up that gigantic elephant. He would have been an unending source of red meat to throw to the Democratic base.
Ah well. Missed opportunities.