Last night, Roy Moore, the twice-removed former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, made national headlines by decisively winning Alabama’s Republican primary to replace Jeff Sessions in the US Senate. Moore won despite – and because of – the entire Republican congressional leadership’s all-out support for Moore’s opponent, interim senator Luther Strange. And they supported Strange because even by what now passes for Republican orthodoxy, Moore is an alarmingly unhinged lunatic. Now, unless Moore loses to the Democratic nominee in December, he’s in. That the Democrat even has a chance to win (he does) tells you just how beyond the pale the notion is that a guy like Moore could serve for years in the US Senate.
But it’s not like Moore’s an unknown quantity. For nearly two decades he’s been a folk hero on the Christian far right for his insistence that God’s law – his God’s law – his interpretation of his God’s law – supercedes the US Constitution. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Moore taking any oath of office with a straight face, since his entire career is built on his enthusiasm for some sort of American racist redneck version of Sharia law. He shouldn’t be able to reconcile, on the one hand, swearing (on a Bible) to defend our Constitution, with, on the other hand, “Thou Shalt Not Lie.”
But he can, and very likely will. Moore grew up in a Jim Crow culture where white racists used Bible verses to defend slavery, lynching, and segregation (among other things). Years later, that’s still Moore’s version of “Christianity.” And in Donald Trump’s America, it might just carry him to the US Senate as one of the 100 most powerful legislators in the country.
Back in 2003, Moore was forced out of office for the first time, for installing a monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state supreme court, and then refusing a federal court order to remove it. To capitalize on what he (of course) called his oppression as a Christian, he toured the country with, and in fact was offered the 2004 presidential nomination for, a small collection of far-right proto-fascist fanatics called the “Constitution Party.”
Moore’s politics were exactly the same back then – but instead of touring the wilderness with a fringe group of nuts, he’s now the Republican nominee for the US Senate. That’s how far Republicans have changed in 13 years, despite a near-continuous record of policy failures whenever they’ve had power at the state or federal level. But modern Republicanism is all about who you hate, and Roy Moore hates whomever his imaginary sky friend tells him to hate – fags, sure, but also much, much more. Judge Roy Moore, like Joe Arpaio and so many of these other figures, is a world class hater.
So when Moore came to Seattle in 2004 as part of that wilderness tour – at an event that got almost no local media coverage – I went. And I interviewed him, one-on-one, for a full hour.
Now, it so happens that I spent some significant years of my childhood in South Carolina, with parents dedicated to making sure I wasn’t gonna be subject to no desegregation. So I’m bilingual – I speak fluent redneck. As such, despite living in a den of godless liberals and personally showing skepticism over some of his claims, I was still, for this 2004 interview, a middle-aged white guy with a suddenly resurgent accent. We got along just fine.
Here’s my take on that interview, originally published nationally by Working Assets on July 2, 2004. Thirteen years later, my last sentence from that column now makes my skin crawl.
Here Came the Judge
I came. I saw. And, last Wednesday night, I left, still not one of the Believers.
I hope I never am. But still…
The event was called “America’s Call to Honor God,” and my attendance was something of a setup. One of the two featured speakers was Chief Justice (Forcibly Retired) Roy S. Moore, the Alabama judge who was removed from his state’s highest judicial post by a federal court late last year after he refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he’d had installed in the rotunda of the state Supreme Court.
Moore was a repeat offender. He’d been elected Chief Justice due to the popularity of his earlier stand as a state circuit judge in Gadsden, when he defied a lawsuit against his posting of the same Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall. After his latest legal loss in November, there has been talk that the politically ambitious Moore’s next step is to run for governor.
And there he was, in a suburb of Seattle, along with Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Anthony Peroutka. (The Constitution Party, in case you’re not up on your right wing fringe parties, was born a few years ago as Howard Phillips’ US Taxpayers Party, accused of some unsavory links to militias and bigots and the like.)
The whole event drew 500 the previous night in Spokane, but only about 100 of the faithful came on a sunny Seattle evening.
And at this point, I suspect editors and readers would expect that I’d launch into some sort of a narrative wherein I relay how horrified I was to be in the midst of a bunch of people who were nuttier than fruitcakes.
Except that I can’t. Because I wasn’t, and they weren’t. (Bigoted and delusional, though? Hell yeah.)
Granted, I found plenty to disagree with, some of it hair-curling. Both Moore and Peroutka inveighed against America’s secular enemies, in a worldview that came at times perilously close to confusing devout with paranoid. As when we learned, at one point, that virtually all government programs designed for the greater good, from social works to environmentalism to health care to seat belts, came straight out of the Communist Manifesto.
The evening went on like that, its political content filled with some observations I found abhorrent, some (e.g., criticism of out-of-control federal spending) I completely agreed with. But in both the speeches and in conversation, I found Moore and Peroutka both to be men worth giving a respectful, if skeptical, hearing. And here’s why:
They have both given up good, comfortable, powerful jobs because they refused to compromise their moral beliefs. And on this Independence Day weekend, I respect that.
Granted, alarm bells tend to go off whenever I hear anyone inveigh, as Moore did, The Truth, as something he has and his critics don’t. I find that a lot easier to take when people aren’t trying to impose their version of The Truth on others. That’s exactly what got Moore into trouble in Alabama.
But I couldn’t help but wonder, as I listened, about how our political and social world might differ if more people in our country made moral values the center of everything they did
For example – and let’s pick on Michael Moore, since everyone else is – how different would our political world look if everyone who has flocked to see Fahrenheit 9/11 had done so not simply to feel good and entertained about hating George Bush, but as part of a lifestyle whose job and leisure time choices were devoted to an understanding of what actions could help each of us make a better world.
Plenty of people, of course, do make those kind of choices – the teachers and nurses and social work types who get paid a relative pittance but justify it as valuable work, for example, or those who volunteer their off hours for worthy causes. But far more of us just do whatever we need to in order to get by and feel better. We don’t think much about, let alone take guidance from, those larger issues.
Roy Moore did. He took a stand I disagree with, but I find it far more valuable, all in all, that he took a stand in the first place. He risked something for his beliefs.
Good for him.
And I hope he never becomes governor.