Alabama rolls to­ward high-stakes skir­mish

Tulsa World - - Opinion - Ge­orge Will Washington Post Writ­ers Group

BIRM­ING­HAM, Ala. — But for the bomb, the four would be in their 60s, prob­a­bly grand­moth­ers. Three were 14 and one was 11 in 1963 when the blast killed them in the 16th Street Bap­tist Church, which is four blocks from the law of­fice of Doug Jones, who then was 9.

He was born in May 1954, 13 days be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion school de­seg­re­ga­tion de­ci­sion. He was 16 when he at­tended, at this city's Le­gion

Field, the Alabama Crim­son Tide vs. Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Tro­jans foot­ball game, in which USC's Sam Cun­ning­ham, an AfricanAmer­i­can all-Amer­i­can, led a 42-21 thump­ing of the home team, thereby (so goes the much-em­bel­lished but truee­nough story) ad­vanc­ing the in­te­gra­tion of the re­gion through its cul­tural pulse, col­lege foot­ball. Roll Tide.

As a sec­ond-year law stu­dent Jones cut classes to at­tend the 1977 trial of one of the church bombers, “Dy­na­mite Bob” Cham­b­liss. In 2001 and 2002, as U.S. at­tor­ney, Jones suc­cess­fully pros­e­cuted two other bombers. Was there re­sent­ment about this pro­tracted pur­suit of jus­tice? No, he says as he nurses with tea a voice raspy from cam­paign­ing, be­cause af­ter 9/11 in­ter­vened, pun­ish­ing do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism was not con­tro­ver­sial. To­day, this son of a steel­worker stands be­tween Roy Moore — an Elmer Gantry mix­ing piety and cu­pid­ity: he and his fam­ily have done well fi­nan­cially run­ning a foun­da­tion — and the U.S. Se­nate seat va­cated by Jeff Ses­sions.

Moore cam­paigns al­most en­tirely about so­cial is­sues — NFL protests, the trans­gen­der men­ace — and the wild lib­er­al­ism of Jones, a law-and-or­der pros­e­cu­tor and deer and turkey hunter who says he has “a safe full of guns.” Jones' grand­fa­thers were mem­bers of the minework­ers and steel­work­ers unions: Birm­ing­ham, sur­rounded by coal and iron ore, was Pitts­burgh — a steel city — al­most be­fore Pitts­burgh was. He hopes eco­nomic and health care is­sues mat­ter more.

Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians who em­brace Moore are serv­ing the pub­lic good by mak­ing ridicu­lous their pose as uniquely moral Amer­i­cans, and by re­veal­ing their lead­ers to be es­pe­cially grotesque spec­i­mens of the van­ity — van­ity about virtue — that is cur­dling pol­i­tics.

An­other pub­lic ben­e­fit from the Moore spec­ta­cle is the em­bar­rass­ment of na­tional Repub­li­cans. Their party hav­ing made the star of the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tape pres­i­dent, they now are hor­ri­fied that Moore might be­come 1 per­cent of the Se­nate. Ac­tu­ally, this scofflaw, twice re­moved from Alabama's Supreme Court, once for dis­obey­ing a U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing, is a suit­able side­kick for the pres­i­dent who par­doned Joe Ar­paio, Ari­zona's crim­i­nal for­mer sher­iff. Even af­ter Don­ald Trump con­ceded that Barack Obama was born in Amer­ica, Moore con­tin­ued re­ject­ing such squishi­ness.

Ab­sen­tee bal­lots are al­ready be­ing cast. As­sum­ing that the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor does not shred state law by pre­vent­ing the elec­tion from oc­cur­ring Dec. 12, Repub­li­cans' Se­nate ma­jor­ity might soon be gone. It has been 21 years since a Demo­cratic Se­nate can­di­date won even 40 per­cent of Alabama's vote. It has, how­ever, been even longer — not since the Ge­orge Wal­lace era — that the state's iden­tity has been hostage to a politi­cian who as­sumes that Alaba­mans are ea­ger to live down to hos­tile car­i­ca­tures of them.

Noth­ing about Moore's po­lit­i­cal, fi­nan­cial or glan­du­lar his­tory will shake his base, un­less the cred­i­ble ac­cu­sa­tions of se­rial pur­suit of un­der­age girls are sud­denly over­shad­owed by some­thing his vot­ers con­sider se­ri­ous, such as tak­ing sides in the Alabama-Auburn game. Jones' hopes rest with tra­di­tional white Democrats (scarce), Repub­li­cans ca­pa­ble of cha­grin (scarcer), and African-Amer­i­cans. They are 27 per­cent of this state in which “civil rights tourism” (the 16th Street church, Selma's Ed­mund Pet­tus Bridge, Martin Luther King's Mont­gomery church, and more) is eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant.

This month, Vir­ginia's African-Amer­i­cans turned out for Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, a Demo­crat who, like Jones, in­vited vot­ers to take a walk on the mild side. Ap­prox­i­mately a quar­ter of Alaba­mans live in the metropoli­tan area of Birm­ing­ham, which has had an African-Amer­i­can mayor since 1979. Na­tional Democrats are help­ing Jones, but del­i­cately. They rashly treated a Ge­or­gia spe­cial con­gres­sional elec­tion as a ref­er­en­dum on the pres­i­dent, and want to avoid that mis­take in a state Don­ald Trump car­ried by 28 points.

Turnout to the Au­gust Repub­li­can pri­mary and the Septem­ber runoff was about 18 and 14 per­cent, re­spec­tively. Next month's elec­tion will oc­cur dur­ing many dis­trac­tions, mid­way be­tween Thanksgiving and Christ­mas and, more im­por­tant, 10 days af­ter Ar­maged­don — the SEC cham­pi­onship game. Per­haps an Alabama vic­tory would make the state han­ker for a se­na­tor wor­thy of its foot­ball team. If so: Roll Tide.

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