The defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election last week offers a glimmer of hope that voters can take control of a system marred by crass and craven politics, deep pocketed special interests, gerrymandered districts and a swath of the public that is unengaged and uninformed.
Too bad it took a despicable candidate like Moore to shock the conscience of enough Alabama voters. It remains to be seen if the election was a tawdry outlier or if it marks a return to government of the people, by the people and for the people.
This much is clear: Moore’s defeat in a fiercely conservative Republican stronghold that had not elected a Democratic senator in a quarter century was a major blow to the GOP and President Trump, who endorsed Moore even after The Washington Post reported he molested a 14-year-old girl when he was a prosecuting attorney in his 30s. Eventually nine women accused Moore of sexual misconduct when they were teens and he was an adult.
Of course, Moore was unfit for office long before the creepy sexual misconduct allegations. He was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for defying high court decisions and had said “homosexual conduct” should be criminalized.
Moore called Native Americans and Asian Americans “reds and yellows” and suggested the Sept. 11 terror attacks were divine punishment. At a campaign rally in September, he said the last time America was great was during slavery because families were united and the country had a direction.
Even still, Moore managed to get a little over 48 percent of the vote – including 63 percent of white women. Worse, the hotly contested race was the center of national attention, yet only 25 percent of registered voters turned out.
Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, was buoyed by a strong turnout of African American voters and some moderate Republicans. Alabama’s other Republican senator, Richard Shelby, had the fortitude to say he did not vote for Moore.
The election demonstrated that motivated and informed voters from both parties are needed to save the country from the current state of chaos and dysfunction. That will not be easy. In many ways, the deck is stacked against democracy. The flood of money from special interests – made worse by the 2010 Citizens United case – has resulted in a professional political class that is largely unresponsive to the problems of average voters. (See current GOP tax bill that mainly rewards big businesses and the super-rich.)
Gerrymandered voting districts – and closed primaries – have produced candidates on the extreme ends of both parties who are out of step with the common sense, fairness and decency exhibited by most Americans. (Hopefully pending litigation will right that wrong in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.)
Fox News, talk radio, social media and a pile of garbage on the internet has undermined civic discourse, trust and the rule of law. Trump’s routine lies and attacks on the free press have diminished the presidency and tarnished American democracy.
Alabama voters said “Enough.” They showed when voters from both parties get engaged and informed they can get the government they deserve. It was a needed lesson for voters everywhere.