An Open Letter to Alabama Voters / Part One

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Jeremiah (Chagall, 1956)

Dear Esteemed Alabamians and Fellow Americans,

I’m writing to you from Seattle, Washington. I know you’re bombarded with election appeals and appreciate your taking time to read this letter.

As you know, the eyes of the nation, and of the world, are on Alabama. I am writing to give an outsider’s perspective on why your Senate election on Tuesday has claimed the word’s attention, and why all of us have a stake in the outcome.

The Alabama Election Will Equally Affect All Americans

Many Republican party politicians want to distance themselves from consequences resulting from the election of Roy Moore. They say “this is a decision for Alabama voters.” And of course in a limited or technical sense, they are correct, since only voters in Alabama can determine the outcome of the election.

But it’s equally true that Alabama is not voting merely to select a government official in Alabama. The election on Tuesday will select a U.S. Senator, one of the most exclusive and powerful political offices in the nation, if not the world.

The victor of the Alabama Senate election on Tuesday will immediately assume office and begin to exercise enormous powers and responsibilities unique to U.S. Senators. These powers and responsibilities include:

  • Confirmation votes for lifetime federal judicial appointees, including federal district court, circuit (appeals) court, and Supreme Court nominees;
  • Legislation concerning science, education, health care, immigration policy, civil rights, climate change, trade, and national security; and
  • Taxation and spending decisions that involve trillions of dollars, with social and economic impacts that will endure for decades.

The question you will answer then, with your vote, is whether Doug Jones or Roy Moore will better represent the state of Alabama in the U.S. Senate, with skills, knowledge, and temperament suited for the scope and importance of the responsibilites of a U.S. Senator.

The Choice is Between Two Individuals, Not Two Political Parties

From the perspective of what is best for Alabama or for the United States, your answer really concerns the choice between these two individuals – Doug Jones and Roy Moore. Given the stakes of the choice, and the differences between these two candidates, a whether one is Democrat and the other a Republican, seems largely irrelevant to achieving that “best” outcome for both Alabama and the nation.

I would like to send two more emails before Tuesday’s election. One will imagine Roy Moore as U.S. Senator from Alabama, and consider the consequences for Alabama and for the nation. The second will in the same way imagine and assess the impact, for Alabama and the nation, of Doug Jones as the U.S. Senator from Alabama.

Thank you again for your time. Please do vote. And please feel free to share this email with anyone who needs an extra nudge to vote. We are grateful. All of us.

Sincerely,

Peter Schwartz
Breaking / Bannon

 

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Passionate Partisans and Erotic Evangelicals: The Republican Party in Alabama

doctor-faustus

Doctor Faustus (Maddox)

Change Research has published results of their most recent poll, undertaken (I don’t use the verb arbitrarily) between September 5 and September 7. The poll shows Republican Roy Moore with the same 7% lead over Democratic Doug Jones that the Raycom News poll reported from their December 4 polling. Moore has been ahead by at least 3% in 4 of the 5 most recent polls, with an average lead that now approaches the furthest edge of the margin of error.

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(Click to view image)

Two insights from the Change Research poll, one concerning partisanship and one concerning the strange evangelical openness to adult men in their 30s dating teenage girls. Let’s examine each in turn.

Passionate Partisans

Among those Alabama voters who have made their decision in the last week, 61% say they will vote for Roy Moore, while only 22% will support Doug Jones. Among those making up their minds in November, the gap was far smaller, with Moore leading Jones by only 51% to 47%.

As Change Research emphasizes, these numbers represent a sharp return to embedded partisan loyalties in Alabama, with emotional attachment to the Republican Party (and an aversion to anything or anyone representing a challenge to the Republican Party) trumping a more nuanced and flexible commitment to the well-being of state and nation.

We can see evidence for this sharply inward and defensive turn in the intensity of the vitriol for Roy Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones, among these late deciders. The Change Research survey shows that the “late deciders” do not love Roy Moore, with 51% saying he has “weak character and integrity.” For unclear reasons, the poll indicates their views of Doug Jones are even more negative.

Erotic Evangelicals

An even more interesting polling statistic is that 34% of evangelical Protestants say (setting aside the Roy Moore allegations) it sometimes or always acceptable for men in their 30s to date teenage girls, compared to 18% of all non-evangelicals. This data point is pretty remarkable, and it suggests the degree to which eroticized, objectifying, and adolescent male lusts infuse the culture.

This proclivity to sexualize teenage girls helps us to reconcile another strange twist in the polling data – that evangelicals use the term “morality” quite differently from non-evangelicals. Only 11% of Moore supporters consider character, integrity, and ethics to be more important than the policy positions of a politician, compared to 37% of Jones supporters. Among all religious groups, independently of political preference, evangalicals are far less likely to prioritize character, integrity and ethics over policy positions.

So when Roy Moore talks about “morality,” what he is really talking about is not an inner condition of ethical awareness and equilibrium, but instead about a narrow and fetishisized political program concerning reproductive health of women same-sex marriage that is largely about control and power over women and their bodies. We might more properly call this emphasis a focus “mooreality” (or, perhaps, “moo-reality”).

The Parallel Universe

Is this crazy stuff? Of course. Should these gothic obsessions drive our national (and local) politics. Obviously not. But Alabama and other parts of the United States do seem to inhabit a parallel universe characterized by a “brutalist” mentality I have discussed elsewhere in essays about Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.

The brutalist mentality conforms to the ethno-nationalist, hard-right worldview and agenda of the Trump Administration, which suggests that Roy Moore would be a worthy instrument of this worldview and agenda in the U.S. Senate. Indeed, just as the Marquis de Sade opened new frontiers in sexual torture games beyond the imagination of those who preceded him, Roy Moore could well take the Trump program into twisted new realms of punishment and degradation beyond Trump’s own wildest dreams.

We live in Roman times, and Republicans in Alabama need to appreciate the forking path in the road that Roy Moore presents to them. Republicans can choose to follow Moore into a dark and brambled forest with a howling, hollowing yellow moon. Or they can make the difficult but courageous decision to vote for Doug Jones, a Democrat, a decent and brave man, a choice that requires they choose invest their passions in state and nation, not in a poisonous partisanship.

Alabama’s Choice (3): 5 Reasons Why Doug Jones Will Defeat Roy Moore on December 12

This article is the 3rd essay in a 3-part series on the opinion polls and demographic dynamics that give Doug Jones this unprecedented opportunity for a Democrat to win a statewide election in Alabama. You can view the other 2 essays here and here.

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Rage, Flower Thrower (Banksy, 2005)

Opinion polls conducted in Alabama prior to the 2016 election gave Donald Trump a 20% lead over Hillary Clinton. With Trump ultimately winning the state by a 28% margin, we should consider the possibility that Roy Moore might easily defeat Doug Jones. This would be conventional wisdom, however, based on what we already know about the overwhelming dominance of the Republican Party in Alabama, organizationally and emotionally. Alabama, after all, is one of the most conservative and evangelical states in the United States.

Betting markets give Roy Moore about an 80 percent chance of winning the election. But these were about the odds given Hillary Clinton to defeat Donald Trump nationally in 2016. And we know what happened in that election. Let’s consider an alternative way to visualize the outcome of this election, based on what we know about the “age gap” for voter preferences and attitudes in Alabama. This age gap tells us that voters under the age of 45 are far more likely to support Doug Jones and liberal policies than voters 45 and older.

First, we must assume this election differs in a qualitative sense from other elections on which pundits and prognosticators base their prediction models. How would we know about these qualitative differences? Roy Moore is like no other candidate for Senate in recent memory (although Roy Arpaio now seems determined to join this exclusive wing-nut/numb-nut club). Roy Moore’s escapades and sensibilities parallel those of Donald Trump, with the two apparently destined for BFF status if Moore makes it to Washington, a romance portending melodrama the nation (and perhaps the planet) probably could not survive.

Second, given the stakes, the Alabama Senate election has received an enormous amount of attention from the rest of the United States, and from the rest of the world. Indeed, Alabama has probably not received this much attention since Bull Connor unleashed his dogs and firehoses on the children of Birmingham in 1963. Politics in Alabama has always operated under cover of darkness, with outcomes that depend upon a stacked deck and the indifference of the rest of the nation. As with the events in Birmingham and Selma a half century ago, the Roy Moore debacle undermines Alabama’s historic claims of being essentially “separate” and “unique” in any sense beyond the dubious distinction of being uncommonly brutal and corrupt.

Third, intense national and international focus on the Alabama election almost by definition changes the internal dynamics of the election. Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch say the outcome of this election should only matter to the residents of Alabama, which is really saying let politics operate as it normally has  in Alabama, through dubious deals and deeds. National interest in this election suggests otherwise, indicating awareness that electing Roy Moore would infect national politics with the most corrosive and toxic elements of Alabama politics.

Fourth, voters in Alabama are clearly uncomfortable with the attention, while simultaneously being aware of the validity of national concerns and of the problems posed by a blind loyalty to poltical party – matter what ugly form it assumes – over state and nation. Younger voters, in particular, especially those with some level of education and with exposure to the rest of the world, and with no direct memory of and experience with the blunt and primitive infrastructure of segregation, are more likely to recoil from the irruption into national politics of a cynical and debased swamp creature like Roy Moore.

Fifth, voters from both the Democratic and Republican parties in Alabama are also aware, pragmatically, that the state can no longer justify using a spurious and bankrupt moral calculus to isolate itself, economically and politically, from the rest of the nation, and from the world. The challenge is not to export Alabama values to the rest of the nation, as Roy Moore would have it, but to import national values into Alabama.

The drama inherent in this election is truly almost without precedent. Opinion polls show such a tight horse race because Alabama citizens do understand the choice between Doug Jones and Roy Moore possesses a transcendent meaning from which they cannot escape as voters. This would be a choice between a past few of them can abide and a future most of them can embrace, with a cascading impact on natonal politics that firmly, and permanently, either integrates the state with the rest of the United States, or separates (disunites) the United States from itself.

There is no guaranteed outcome to this election, of course. But there is also no middle ground. The time for hedging has passed. The path forward that elects Doug Jones requires exceptional turnout by younger voters and the decision of a meaningful slice of Republican voters in the state (mostly older) to vote for Jones (or not to vote at all). That we are having this conversation at all is a sign that Alabama may have already un-Moored itself from the rigid caste assumptions of its past. That faith in the meaning of the uncertain energy in the state itself, about which many have commented, validates the unconventional wisdom stored within the polling data.