Was a 14-year-old girl molested by Alabama Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore, or is she lying? It’s a yes-or-no question.
Was a 16-year-old girl sexually assaulted by Moore, or is she lying? Again, it’s a yes-or-no question.
Finally, do you believe that there are conditions under which a child molester should sit in the United States Senate? Again, this question is binary.
Yet many conservatives seem to be seeking a third answer to all three of these questions, mostly to avoid giving straight answers.
Let’s begin with the first question: Did Roy Moore molest a 14-year-old girl? Did he meet her at an Alabama courthouse, get her phone number, pick her up from her mother’s home, and drive her to his own, proceed to undress her and touch her sexually, then force her to touch him? Or was this all made up?
Moore says it’s all made up; the alleged victim, Leigh Corfman, says it happened. So, here’s what we know. We know that Corfman and her mother were at the courthouse at the time in question; we know that Corfman apparently has told others over the years about the incident; we know that she didn’t want to talk about the experience publicly but was convinced to do so by the Washington Post; we know that three other women have come forward stating to the Post that Moore attempted to date them when they were between the ages of 16 (the age of legal consent in Alabama) and 18; we know that a former Moore colleague said it was common knowledge that Moore liked to date high-school girls when he was in his 30s; we know that Corfman says she voted for President Trump.
We also know that Moore has denied the allegations; we know that Moore says he didn’t “generally” date teenagers when he was in his 30s, adding, “I’m not going to dispute anything, but I don’t remember anything like that”; he has threatened to sue the Washington Post for running the story; he claims he “never talked to or had any contact” with Corfman. We also know that these claims surfaced only 30 days from a heavily publicized election.
You get to decide whether Corfman’s claims are credible, or whether Moore’s denials are. Or you can say that you don’t have enough evidence to make a judgment — which is making a default judgment against the credibility of claims as they currently stand.
Now, the second question: Did Roy Moore sexually assault a 16-year-old girl named Beverly Young Nelson in 1977? Here’s what we know. We know that Nelson claims to have worked at a restaurant and met Moore there; we know that he signed her yearbook; we know that she quit the restaurant; we know that she claims he brought her into his car and then groped her breasts and grabbed her by the neck, attempting to force her head down into his crotch; we know that she, too, claims to have supported Trump.
We also know that Moore denies the allegations and says that the alleged victim’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, is a publicity hound.
Now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the claims against Moore are credible. (I believe they are, for the record.) Let’s ask the final question: Does it matter enough that Roy Moore has been credibly accused of child molestation for him to possibly lose his Senate seat to a Democrat?
A few conservatives say yes: the National Review editorial board, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.,), Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah), Senator Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), and some others. But the more common response seems to be no: Other considerations take precedence over Moore’s alleged crimes.
This argument takes three specific forms.
Due process determines whether you go to jail. The public determines whether it thinks politicians ought to be handed power.
The first argument: Moore hasn’t been convicted of anything, and due process requires us to consider him innocent until proven guilty. This argument is empty, because our decision to vote for or against a particular candidate doesn’t require due process — Hillary Clinton wasn’t convicted of anything, either, except in the minds of the public. Due process determines whether you go to jail. The public determines whether it thinks politicians ought to be handed power.
The second argument is supposedly pragmatic: Democrats routinely pooh-pooh the crimes and misdeeds of their own candidates, so Republicans would be at a systemic disadvantage if they were to clean their own slate. But this, again, supports the notion that the people can’t be trusted — that the people will overlook crimes in order to get what they want. More commonly, scandal-ridden candidates end up on the outs with voters. Just ask Hillary.
Finally, there’s the third argument, which is the most honest and also the most morally horrifying: David Horowitz’s argument that Democrats are so disgusting that even if Moore did it, he wouldn’t care, because the Democrats must be stopped. This binary thinking would justify a vote for anyone who votes the right way on legislation; President Trump could have literally shot someone on Fifth Avenue, and Horowitz would have supported him. In this view, character doesn’t matter at all and we aren’t destroying the social fabric of the country when we prize policy outcomes over basic decency. In fact, the Horowitz angle holds that basic decency can be ensured only by desired policy outcomes: All that matters is politics.
This argument goes too far. If we’re really at the point in American politics where political opposition requires electing credibly accused child molesters, then we ought to put down ballots and pick up guns. Any evil so grave that we must elect sexual abusers to stop it is an evil that merits a violent response.
How will Republicans decide on Roy Moore? Perhaps they’ll convince themselves that Moore is innocent; perhaps they’ll convince themselves that the ends justify the means. Or perhaps they’ll make an objective judgment about the allegations against Moore and remind themselves that character still matters in life and even in politics.
I pray for the latter — and for a write-in candidacy for Jeff Sessions, too.