Yesterday, The Federalist published a provocative article from a Baptist philosophy professor defending his decision to support Roy Moore in Alabama’s contentious special election to replace former Sen. Jeff Sessions, and urging others to vote for Moore as well. I don’t personally agree with the viewpoints or the rationalizations offered by the author of the piece. That’s a thing that happens nearly every day when we run articles at The Federalist. We have published a variety of views about Moore’s controversial candidacy and the accusations swirling around him, many of them condemning him as unacceptable as a candidate and someone who should not be seated if elected. However, this one particular article appears to have touched a nerve, so I want to make one thing very clear: We make absolutely no apologies for publishing it.
I understand full well why people do not like this piece. Every day we publish articles at The Federalist with which I disagree. It’s an impossibility for a publication that offers the variety of content and perspectives we do to always line up with our editors’ views. But we publish the things we think make valuable contributions to the public debate, and represent the views of voters.
In 2016, a man accused of heinous behavior and remarks toward women – some of which were recorded on video – ran for president. He was hated by the moneyed and credentialed establishments of both major political parties. He was mocked relentlessly as too stupid, boorish, and unhinged to ever be elected president. After the infamous Access Hollywood tapes were released, both the media and the political elites, Republican and Democrat, demanded that the man immediately drop out of the race. When he refused to do so, the same people demanding his immediate exit from public life switched targets and began attacking anyone who refused to denounce the Republican candidate for president. When that didn’t dissuade his supporters, the outrage mob then directed its fire at any media outlet which chose to publish the perspectives of voters who nonetheless planned to vote for the besieged candidate. And about a month later, to the shock of the scores of highly compensated professionals whose sole job is to understand voters, report on their views, and to ultimately help predict and explain election results, that man was elected president of the United States.
Because the party establishments and the media which enable them had decided their job was to advocate rather than inform, to opine rather than listen, and to judge rather than educate, they completely missed the political earthquake was happening right beneath their feet. Something similar is happening in Alabama, where a decades-long political gadfly hated by his state’s political establishment, a man tossed out of his old political job and then promptly re-elected to it by the voters, easily knocked out an incumbent senator despite tens of millions of dollars being spent against him by the most powerful Republican senator in the country. And after he did the seemingly impossible – much like that accomplished by a golden-haired, Twitter-obsessed reality TV star from New York in the 2016 GOP primary – Roy Moore was hit with one of the most devastating opposition research blows in modern history, second only to the last-minute DUI dump against then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2000.
The allegations against him were on the record from multiple women with no relationship to each other and painted a consistent picture of a grown man who preyed on teenage girls. The allegations were difficult to dismiss and impossible to ignore. And yet, if political polls are to be believed, a candidate who was left for dead is suddenly leading in a race we’re told he has no business winning. But he appears to be doing exactly that. Why?
It’s a simple question, and one that should interest anyone and everyone interested in politics. The answer to that question should be the obsession of every professional political pundit in the country today. And yet, it’s not. In fact, to ask the question is an invitation to be accused of supporting a sex offender. To answer the question is to be tagged an apologist for child molestation. How do I know that? Because those very charges were leveled against me, my publication, my staff, and my freelance contributors, all because The Federalist committed the unforgivable crime of giving voice to someone who wanted to explain why he still supported Roy Moore and why he thought his neighbors should do the same.
One of the great problems of the current political moment is that so many people, even those on the right, are blind to the possibility that “Why Alabamians Should Vote For Roy Moore” offers a very valuable perspective. If recent polls are to be believed, Roy Moore is about to become the next U.S. senator from Alabama. If you are troubled by this development, shouldn’t you want to seek to understand the reasoning of those who are overlooking the serious accusations against Moore? Understanding that mindset would be useful for how to approach future partisan controversies. It tells us what is going on in the nation in which we live.
If I were a voter in Alabama on December 12, I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore or Doug Jones, just as I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I think both Moore and Jones are awful and nowhere near the kind of politician I want serving this nation in elected office. That’s my personal opinion. But I don’t live in Alabama, and my opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is what’s on the hearts and minds of people who actually have a say in who is going to represent Alabama in the Senate. I want to know what those people think. I want to know why they think it. I want to know how those thoughts have changed over the last days and weeks. I want to know why credible charges of assault are not enough to dissuade supporters of Roy Moore. I want to know why Doug Jones’ support of government-funded abortion right up to the moment of crowning is not sufficient to dissuade his supporters from voting for him. I want to know why Republicans who have always disliked Moore throughout his long history in Alabama politics plan to vote for him anyway. I want to know why Republicans who have never voted for a Democrat are considering voting for Jones. I want to understand what makes voters tick.
If you don’t want to know the answers to any of these questions, that’s fine. If you want to plug your ears and go LA LA LA that’s fine. But I will not apologize ever, for any reason, for trying to understand the motivations of people who vote in this country. I will not apologize ever, for any reason, for publishing the views of people who don’t make a living in politics about why they plan to vote a certain way.
The same personalities and publications who botched every possible projection and prognostication in 2016 because they arrogantly and indignantly refused to talk to the voters whose views actually decide elections pulled one of the more pathetic spectacles of Twitter mob outrage that I’ve seen yesterday. Apparently they believe that alienating the 90+ percent of Alabama Republicans set to put Moore in office by refusing to engage their point of view is totally fine. Many Alabama Republicans are not happy about the situation they’ve been placed in, but they feel they have no choice but to vote for Moore anyway. And so far, the individual rationales of decent people making a hard choice has only been disdainfully judged as the collective action of a state full of moral reprobates from the newsrooms in D.C. and New York.
This approach will not promote greater understanding. Indeed, the blatant attempt to tell voters certain values and opinions they hold dear are beneath discussion is, for better and for worse, How You Got Trump. If anything, the very obvious and public refusal to engage widely held opinions only empowers those arguments, by falsely suggesting people are afraid to engage these arguments because they cannot answer them.
Yesterday, the NYT’s Dean Baquet did something very brave in my view – he stood up to the social media mob and denounced them for going after the Times for publishing its profile of a Nazi in middle America. It was the right thing to do. I am thoroughly fed up with the idea that writing a story profiling someone who represents a real trend that is happening is in some way “normalizing” of their actions or beliefs. Reporting about these trends are the only way we can grapple with them, and avoid pretending the world is not as it is.
So I would like to know what John Conyers’ constituents think of the allegations against him and whether they’re disqualifying. I’d like to know what Al Franken’s constituents think about whether he should remain in office. And yes, I would like to know why Alabama Republicans are supporting Roy Moore. For all the talk from sanctimonious media types about how democracy dies in darkness, we sure have a lot of people outraged at the thought of actual democracy being the means by which we litigate whether certain individuals are fit to serve in elected office. For some, maybe the darkness of ignorance is more comforting than looking closely at what’s right in front of your face.
The goal of any worthwhile and effective journal of opinion analysis in navigating what is an increasingly tribal and divisive period in American history should be to promote real debate. That does not mean retreating to our corners and pretending that if we ignore the perspectives we don’t like, they will magically go away. It means dealing with the world as it is, and the spectrum of opinion as it exists – not pretending that things are what they are not.
Those upset by “Why Alabamians Should Vote For Roy Moore” are free to respond and we will continue to publish many different opinions on Roy Moore and other controversial topics. In fact, we do exactly that today in a piece titled “Why It Would Be Better For Conservatives To Let Roy Moore Lose.” We do not seek to be provocative for provocation’s sake, but the slogan of The Federalist remains “Be lovers of freedom, and anxious for the fray.” We think these battles are real and we do not hesitate to rush to the sound of the guns. At a time much of the country is suffering as a result of terrible ideas inflicted on us by our cultural and political betters, The Federalist remains avowedly committed to offering alternative views. For those that have a problem with this, the question is simple: what are you afraid of?