We spent Monday and Tuesday in “Dewey Defeats Truman” mode, fully preparing to write a piece on the election of Republican Roy Moore to the United States Senate. We had even dusted off a 1925 quote from the great H.L. Mencken during his coverage of the Scopes monkey trial in Tennessee in which he excoriated the fundamentalist Southern foes of evolution: “Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience.”
How relieved we are then to have been wrong, not only about Tuesday night’s election result but also our false and smug assumption that the majority of voters in the usually red and deeply conservative Alabama would do the wrong thing and pull the wrong lever, fueling the high-octane, blood-thirsty aspirations of Donald Trump’s Rasputin, Steve Bannon. When last we saw Bannon in the wee hours of the morning he was staggering down a back alley struggling to pull the stake out of his heart.
Last month in Anniston, Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones, the senator-to-be, said, “We’ve got a real opportunity here to put Alabama’s best foot forward, instead of taking a step or two back.” And so Alabama has. Still, it was close.
There were so many factors at play: Roy Moore was for years a familiar figure roaming Alabama’s rural areas like Elmer Gantry, calling on the lost to repent and mend their ways while keeping the collection plates filled. Turns out that between revivals Moore may also have been stalking teenagers for purposes other than choir practice.
What’s more, the twice-deposed judge—bounced both times from the bench for refusing to enforce federal laws (he always seemed a secessionist at heart, an early advocate of Make America As Great As It Was Before Lincoln)—ran a poor campaign. He assumed victory and was AWOL much of the time as he sought to avoid human and media contact, while the Jones operation was textbook: well-organized, with a strong get-out-the-vote operation and a homegrown candidate with a creative ad campaign who was constantly on the hustings, moving from town to town, shaking hands and making contact with as many voters as he could.
Add to this the sentiment among many of Alabama’s citizens that they were tired of and disgusted with their redneck, reactionary image and a belief pushed forward by, most importantly, the state’s senior Republican senator, Richard Shelby, that Moore’s election would be bad for business.
But the big news in the results was turnout, especially among African-Americans and women—numbers the Democratic Party should take to heart.
As our friend John Nichols at The Nation reported: “African-Americans formed 28 percent of the Alabama electorate on Tuesday. Doug Jones won 96 percent of their votes statewide, as compared with 31 percent of the white vote, according to exit polls.”
And Jonathan Allen at NBC News wrote: “Fifty-eight percent of Alabama women voted for the winner, Democrat Doug Jones, including 35 percent of white women, according to exit polling. While that latter figure might not sound like much, it’s more than twice the 16 percent of white Alabama women who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, the last presidential race in which exit polling was conducted.”
By the way, don’t be hard on us if we return to the humbled but richly bankrolled Bannon (by the billionaires-many-times-over Mercer family longing with misty eyes for a return to the feudal system) who appeared at two Moore rallies in Alabama, railing without a trace of irony about “outsiders” coming into the state. Oh, to have seen his face when he read the tweet from former Mitch McConnell aide Josh Holmes, who said: “I’d just like to thank Steve Bannon for showing us how to lose the reddest state in the union.”
Nor can you blame us for being amused by the reaction of the president to Moore’s loss. Trump, who in the last days of the race came out forcefully for his gun-toting fellow groper, rallied on Moore’s behalf in nearby Pensacola, Florida, tweeted for him like a kid with a pea shooter and made robocalls urging support, now backpedals: “I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the general election. I was right!”
So as Doug Jones stood at the podium Tuesday night, claiming victory while surrounded by his family and a racially diverse coalition of women and men, secessionists took it on the chin, as did the sexual predators, our corrupted president and the white supremacist lemmings led by the anarchist Bannon and the Bible-misquoting Moore, now a deflated messiah.
Yes, a victory is celebrated, but while the right-wing populists lost, the Republican plutocrats kept winning. Back in his gilded quarters in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who doubles as consigliere and concierge for the ultrarich, can breathe more easily now that he doesn’t have to face the awkward challenge of an accused sexual predator at each end of Pennsylvania Avenue and trying to expel a newly elected Moore from the US Senate. McConnell can press full-speed ahead with his main mission of enriching big donors and big business with a huge tax deal that redistributes wealth in America further up the ladder, while vastly expanding inequality.
After Tuesday’s election, there was a call to delay the final votes on the tax “reform” legislation until Jones has been seated—much as Democrats delayed the Obamacare vote until Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown was seated after the death of Ted Kennedy. But if you think McConnell would even consider such a bipartisan gesture, we’ve got a reminder for you: This is the man who after the death of Justice Scalia refused to act on then-President Obama’s widely acclaimed (by both parties) nominee to the Supreme Court and left the seat empty for almost a year until Trump’s election secured it for a Republican guardian of plutocracy.
Nor will Jones’ success impede the GOP Senate’s relentless rush to place on the federal bench right-wing and often woefully subpar judges. In fact, while voters went to the polls in Alabama, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Leonard Steven Grasz to a lifetime seat on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Grasz is one of only three appointees in history to have been deemed “unanimously unqualified” by the American Bar Association (ABA).
At HuffPost, Jennifer Bendery writes: “Among other things, Grasz served on a nonprofit board that backed so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids, and in a 1999 article argued that lower courts should be able to overrule Supreme Court decisions on abortion rights because ‘abortion jurisprudence is, to a significant extent, a word game.’”
The reaction of Republican senators has not been to reconsider the appointment of Grasz and other ideological warriors, but—you guessed it—to attack the ABA, just as Republicans, conservatives and the far-right are now attacking special prosecutor Robert Mueller in yet another partisan effort to undermine the rule of law.
So congratulations, Doug Jones—and hold on to your hat. You have quite a ride ahead of you and need all the luck you can get. So do we.
Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.