Roy Moore’s vision for America is grounded in the 1850s, an era he fondly recalled in a recent interview as a “great”time,,, when families were united — even though we had slavery. They cared for one another.” He couldn’t be more wrong about it then, or now.
Moore might have been a shoe-in for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, if not for a scandal involving allegations he pursued teenage girls for sex when he was more than twice their age.
The five women who have come forward have given Alabamians pause to more closely examine Moore’s character, not only for what he did but for his brazen denials about it now.
But the examination shouldn’t stop there. Moore’s beliefs about race, dignity, human rights, women and white supremacy are just as odious as his trolling for teen “dates” back in the day.
His idyllic view of the Antebellum South is a fantasy. Life back then was harsh, brutish and short for everyone except perhaps the plantation aristocracy. It’s economy, based on forced labor, required the subjugation of blacks as well as poor whites.
That subjugation was brutally enforced with chains, whips and the hangman’s rope. Despite the outcome of the Civil War, that strict social caste system re-emerged following Reconstruction across the South.
Jim Crow became the law of the land. Discrimination, segregation, voter suppression and lynchings continued into the 20th Century. Finally, the 1950s and ’60s Civil Rights Movement brought the era to a close, at least as far as the law was concerned. But the hatred still burns to this day in people like Roy Moore.
Here’s where the paradox of the South comes into play. At the same time Jim Crow flourished, others called for a New South, based on modernization and integration with the rest of the country.
In the seminal book, “The Origins of the New South: 1877–1913, author C. Vann Woodward explained the dichotomy this way,
It is the story of the decay and decline of the aristocracy, the suffering and betrayal of the poor whites, and the rise and transformation of a middle class. It is not a happy story. The Redeemers are revealed to be as venal as the carpetbaggers. The declining aristocracy are ineffectual and money hungry, and in the last analysis they subordinated the values of their political and social heritage in order to maintain control over the black population. The poor whites suffered from strange malignancies of racism and conspiracy-mindedness, and the rising middle class was timid and self-interested even in its reform movement. The most sympathetic characters in the whole sordid affair are simply those who are too powerless to be blamed for their actions.”
States like Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana embraced the New South philosophy while other states clung doggedly to the past.
None more so than Alabama.
The state violently resisted desegregation. In 1963, in his inaugural gubernatorial address, Gov. George C. Wallace declared that he stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” In 1968, he ran as a third party presidential candidate on an openly white supremacist platform.
The state’s beloved University of Alabama “Crimson Tide” football team didn’t add a black player to its varsity squad until 1971, years after most other college teams.
The state’s racist attitudes have taken their toll. Alabama remains the sixth poorest state in the nation. it ranks 47th out of 50 states for health care and dead last for public health care, according to US News & World Report.
The state has the worst infant mortality rate and ranks 49th for obesity. It also ranks at the bottom for higher education graduation rates, and its overall economy ranks 45th out of 50 states.
Despite its image as a rural backwater, Alabama has made strides to join the ranks of the New South. Its manufacturing base is growing and it’s attracting new business because of its low costs and improving image.
That’s what makes Roy Moore’s election so critical. Alabamians must choose between its New South future and its Old South past. Moore clearly represents the latter.
His views are so out of sync with mainstream America, his election will set back Alabama decades and fuel the divisiveness that is currently plaguing the nation. Moore is particularly corrosive because he uses the Bible to support his extreme views.
Although it plays well in deeply religious rural Alabama, the election is not about religion, which Moore cynically uses to deny his past misconduct. It’s about leaving behind the Old South and embracing the New South in Alabama.