Alabama’s Senate race a farce
In 1991, a political wit came up with a bumper sticker to persuade his fellow Louisianans of the importance of keeping Ku Klux Klansman David Duke out of the governor’s office: “Vote for the crook. It’s important.” Duke’s opponent was the notoriously corrupt Edwin Edwards, whose main virtue was that he wasn’t a member of a domestic terror organization. Edwards won.
Would that Republican voters in my home state of Alabama had as easy a choice in the upcoming runoff (Sept. 25) for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, which pits incumbent Luther Strange against former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. There is, unfortunately, no way to choose between the evils of these two lessers.
There will be a much better choice in the December 12 vote, a special election to fill the seat that was left vacant when then-senator Jeff Sessions was appointed U.S. Attorney General. The Democratic nominee is Birmingham lawyer Doug Jones, who served as a federal prosecutor in the administration of President Bill Clinton. During his tenure, he led the prosecutions of two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, in which four young girls were killed.
But Alabama is a deep crimson state, a place where the call of tribalism has only grown stronger in the era of President Donald J. Trump. The Republican Party has spent decades pandering to the fears and resentments of conservative whites who are uncomfortable with cultural change, and they have deserted the Democratic Party. So it doesn’t matter if one Republican candidate is crazy and the other is corrupt. One of them will likely end up winning the December election.
Strange is running by tying himself firmly to the president’s ankle. He has received Trump’s endorsement, and the president was persuaded to come to Alabama to hold a rally for him. Trump has also kept up his favorable tweets for Strange, including one earlier this week: “Alabama is sooo lucky to have a candidate like ‘Big’ Luther Strange. Smart, tough on crime, borders & trade, loves Vets & Military. Tuesday!”
Strange’s commercials play up his support for Trump’s promised wall on the southern border with Mexico, a campaign pledge that remains quite popular in these parts. His ads also highlight his endorsement by the National Rifle Association, sought-after support in a part of the country where firearm-ownership is as much a part of life as Friday night football.
One thing Strange’s ads don’t mention is his alliance with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; the PAC that McConnell controls, the Senate Leadership Fund, has poured millions into Strange’s campaign. He is the candidate of the GOP establishment. And while Strange claims with a straight face that he will “drain the swamp,” he is one of the alligators. Earlier in his career, he spent years in Washington as a lobbyist.
Then, there’s the questionable way he ended up as the incumbent in this race. As Alabama’s attorney general, Strange was charged with investigating the scandal that had engulfed then-Gov. Robert Bentley. But Strange accepted Bentley’s appointment to the Senate, which ended his investigation. (Bentley later resigned under pressure.)
None of that is to suggest, however, that Moore is an acceptable alternative. He has been kicked off the state Supreme Court twice because he thumbs his nose at the dictates of the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
He was removed in 2003 for defying a federal judge, who ordered him to remove a huge monument to the Ten Commandments he had commissioned for the Alabama Supreme Court building. Never mind that. The good voters of Alabama sent him back to the highest state court in 2012. He was removed in 2016 for refusing to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
Those far-right beliefs have earned him deep support among a certain brand of conservative Christian. He has also picked up the endorsement of former Trump aide Steve Bannon, whose white nationalist views are not considered outlandish among Moore’s base.
It’s a toss-up, then, between two men who are clearly unfit for the office to which they aspire. Let’s hope Democrat Doug Jones has a good bumper sticker.