Roy Moore: Are we really having this conversation?

By now you know the basics: Thursday, the Republican senate candidate in Alabama got accused of drawing a 14-year-old girl into a sexual encounter when he was 32, back in 1979. As Josh Moon of Alabama Political Reporter put it:

For nearly 40-year-old allegations, the Post’s story was about as solid as it could be.

In other words: We’re not talking about rumors-backed-by-anonymous-sources. The Washington Post article that broke the story names and quotes the 14-year-old (Leigh Corfman, now 53). Three other women (also named) tell similar, if less extreme, stories about Moore:

Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s, episodes they say they found flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older.

The Post found these women; they didn’t come forward on their own. (The one detail I’d still like to hear is how the reporters found the women.)

Neither Corfman nor any of the other women sought out The Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore’s Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls. Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore. The women say they don’t know one another.

Other details are corroborated: Corfman’s mother remembers the incident where her daughter met Moore, and recalls Corfman telling her about Moore’s advances in the 1990s, when they saw his picture in a newspaper. (Moore says he never met her.) Two of Corfman’s childhood friends (one of them named, the other anonymous) remember her talking about an older man at the time, and the named one recalls Corfman saying Moore’s name.

After the story came out, CNN found more corroboration from Teresa Jones, who was a deputy district attorney working in the same office as Moore at the time:

It was common knowledge that Roy dated high-school girls. Everyone we knew thought it was weird. We wondered why anyone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall.

In other words, if the story is a smear, it would have to be a fairly large conspiracy, and there’s no way the Post’s reporters aren’t in on it. Is that really the most likely explanation?

Moore has called the accusations “outlandish“, “garbage”, and “politically motivated”, and he says he’ll sue the Post. (I’ll bet we never see that suit.) But there’s something a little off in his denials. In an interview with Sean Hannity, who surely was not trying to trip him up, he claims not to remember Corfman (“I never knew this woman.”), though he does remember two of the women who claimed he approached them when they were teens. (He “generally” didn’t date teen girls, he says.) He doesn’t remember going out on dates with them, or giving one of them alcohol even though she was under the drinking age (as she reports). He did date “a lot of young ladies” at that point in his life, but he doesn’t remember having a girlfriend in her late teens, and “I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother”.

I would guess that most 30-something men don’t remember dating any girl who needed the permission of her mother. But that phrase is suggestive of something else, as I’ll discuss in a few paragraphs.

The political situation. Moore is running in a special election for the remainder of Jeff Sessions’ term in the Senate, which lasts until 2020. The election will be held December 12. It’s already too late to replace Moore’s name on the ballot, though write-ins are possible. However, it’s hard to imagine a Republican write-in candidate succeeding without Moore stepping aside.

Other options are described in the NYT: The governor could delay the special election, which she says she won’t do. If Moore wins, the Senate could refuse to seat him. The Constitution addresses this possibility:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members … Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

Ironically, Moore quoted this same passage in 2006 as part of an argument that the House should not seat Rep. Keith Ellison because he’s a Muslim. In Moore’s case, two-thirds would mean all 48 Democratic senators and 19 of the 52 Republicans. Expulsion would set up another special-election situation.

Before the story broke, the RCP polling average on this race had Moore ahead of Democrat Doug Jones by 6 points, with one poll putting the margin at 11. I had been thinking that the polls understated Moore’s lead, because the Raven Republicans (“never Moore”) probably would have come around the same way most never-Trump Republicans did.

Maybe they still will, but there appears to be an initial reaction to the story: A Thursday-to-Saturday poll had Democrat Doug Jones ahead of Moore 46%-42%, or 48%-44% when Undecideds were pushed to make a choice. Another poll, however, shows Moore’s lead shrinking, but still at 10%.

Defense in depth. National Republicans are either partially or totally against Moore. The safe line is Mitch McConnell’s: Moore should get out of the race “if these allegations are true”. But a few national figures have gone further: John McCain left out the “if” and just said “He should immediately step aside.” Mitt Romney was even blunter:

Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that the accusations are more credible than the denials, and Moore should drop out.

But a number of Alabama Republicans have rallied around Moore. Many are simply repeating his charge that the whole thing is a political smear. A number of them, though, have gone further: Even if the allegations are true, they’re just not that bad, or at least not bad enough to allow another Democrat into the Senate.

State Auditor Jim Ziegler offered this as evidence that Moore’s intentions were honorable: He eventually married “one of the younger women”. Moore’s wife was 24 when he married her at age 38. (I had a similar thought — that Moore’s choice of wife proves that he has an eye for younger women — but I wasn’t planning to go there until I heard Ziegler do it.) Also, Joseph was much older than Mary when they married and raised Jesus. (If the sheer absurdity of this doesn’t faze him, I wonder why he doesn’t make an even stronger claim: Think how much older God was when He got Mary pregnant.)

The religious divide is bigger than you think. In general, American Christians tend to picture extreme Christians as like themselves, only moreso: They attend church more often, take the Bible more literally, are more offended by sinful behavior, and so forth. But the Moore controversy is uncovering a conservative Christian subculture that is totally outside the mainstream.

In particular, the claim that there’s nothing wrong with 30-something men pursuing just-out-of-puberty girls is related to a “traditional” view of marriage that most American Christians would find repellent: A 14-year-old girl isn’t going to be an equal partner with a 32-year-old man; but if a wife’s only purpose is to obey her husband and have a lot of babies, she can do that as well an adult woman. Maybe better.

That’s not middle-of-the-road Christianity only moreso, it’s a whole other worldview. Writing for The L.A. Times, Kathryn Brightbill describes growing up within that world, where Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson (whose son Willie spoke at the Republican Convention) advocates marrying 15-year-old girls. (His own wife was 16, and he started dating her when she was 14.) And speakers at conventions for Christian home-schoolers both advocated an exemplified such marriages.

We need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old-girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage.

If anything bad happens, of course, it is the girl’s own fault.

Much of the sexual abuse that takes place in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, or IFB, churches involves adult men targeting 14- to 16-year-old girls. If caught, the teenage victim may be forced to repent the “sin” of having seduced an adult man. Former IFB megachurch pastor Jack Schaap argued that he should be released from prison after being convicted of molesting a 16-year-old girl, asserting that the “aggressiveness” of his victim “inhibited [his] impulse control.”

Nancy French relates similar experiences in The Washington Post.

I was delighted when the preacher volunteered to drop me off. As we drove, I chatted incessantly, happy to have him all to myself without people trying to get his attention in the church parking lot. When we got to my house, I was shocked that he walked me inside my dark house, even more surprised when he lingered in conversation, and thunderstruck when he kissed me right on the lips.

At 12 years old, I swooned over my good luck. He picked me out of all the girls at church. But the relationship, especially after he moved on, reset my moral compass. If all the church conversation about morality and sexual purity was a lie, what else was fake? Now that the “family of God” felt incestuous, I rejected the church and myself. Didn’t I want the preacher’s attention? Didn’t I cause this?

What this is all going to turn on is whether Alabama’s Christians, even those inclined to vote Republican, take a hard look at Roy Moore’s version of Christianity, and realize that they have very little in common with it. Ross Douthat might be a model:

One lesson is that any social order that vests particular forms of power in men needs to do more, not less, to hold the male of the species accountable.

Some cultural conservatives, in evangelical Christianity especially, combine a belief in male headship in churches and families with a “boys will be boys and girls shouldn’t tempt them” attitude toward sex. It’s a combination that’s self-contradictory and deeply toxic, handing men not just power but a permission slip to abuse it — which, predictably, they do.

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  • Naomi  On November 13, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Ouch! All this is too familiar to me as it digs up old memories of my youth.
    I was submerged at 16 in a baptizing ritual and told not to wear underwear
    under the flannel gown. There were six of us, dipped and pulled up, dripping with water while attempting to protect our modesty. I was not prepared for the feeling of humiliation. The church was Southern Baptist

  • Dennis Maher  On November 13, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Yeah, I thought these people were like me but lots more so. There must be studies of this “subculture.” Does it have a name? I’ve read lots on fundamentalism, and maybe the “subculture” is there because of their beliefs about creation first, and about salvation second: Creation is interpreted to be patriarchal and salvation is so much out of our hands we just don’t have to worry about that shadow side of ourselves. God will straighten it all out. We’re just living the way God made us. And I hadn’t thought of the Robertsons.

    • Marty  On November 13, 2017 at 4:57 pm

      You might want to look into Christian patriarchy and quiverfull, both of which argue these kinds of ideas.

  • Mary Scriver  On November 13, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    You are the first I’ve read who has acknowledged the pervasive cultural theme that having sex with underage girls is a common fact and good thing. One of my co-workers in this little rural Montana town was caught in an FBI sting offering a pre-pubescent girl for a few hundred dollars. The main reaction was laughter and the comment that he was too repulsive to get any sex for free.

    Of course, God, like his cousin Zeus, believed in the Droit du Seigneur but Zeus didn’t stick to his own species.

    The factors of poverty and religion endorse the novelistic belief that a strong powerful man is a potential deus ex machina.

  • weeklysift  On November 13, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Apparently McConnell found some courage: This morning he said “I believe the women” and “I think he should step aside.” Maybe this will create some momentum.

    • 1mime  On November 14, 2017 at 6:27 pm

      McConnell never acts out of courage, only self-interest. Bannon’s protege is Moore and Bannon has publicly stated he wants to remove McConnell as Senate Leader. Remember, this is the same man that on the night Barack Obama was overwhelmingly elected POTUS, stated: “I will do everything I can to make him a one-term president.” He’s a mean, calculating, self-serving man. Nothing more.

  • Larry Benjamin  On November 13, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    The idea that extremely religious men subscribe to a culture of ephebephilia is disgusting, but not surprising. But surely not all of Moore’s current supporters believe it’s OK for men in their 30s to mess around with teenage girls. The ones who are denying this happened must view Moore as a hero, a man who exemplifies the godliness and moral purpose that in their view America sorely needs. So these attacks on him are just more proof that “liberals” feel threatened and are merely lashing out at Moore out of desperation. This is the only thing that can explain the RISE in support Moore has had in some quarters since the allegations.

    Imagine that you’re trying to decide between two Democratic candidates for Congress. Now imagine that Donald Trump criticizes one of them. Wouldn’t that make you more likely to support that candidate?

    • Marty  On November 14, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      I think that you may be underestimating the effect of toxic masculinity. I could certainly see a certain group of men thinking “that dog! I wish I had that kind of game!” Disgusting as that may be.

      • Larry Benjamin  On November 14, 2017 at 5:08 pm

        And I’m not saying those men don’t exist. Several years ago, Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” gave a speech where he memorably recommended that older men marry 15 year old girls because “they’ll pluck yer ducks,” and he didn’t get any criticism from conservatives over this. So there is definitely a subculture that is just fine with older men going for teenage girls. But for someone who can’t reconcile that behavior with their squeaky-clean image of Judge Moore, telling themselves that it’s part of an evil plot proving that Moore is a real threat to liberals, can be very attractive.

        So can we sum up the reactions:

        1. He didn’t do it
        2. He did it, but it’s no big deal
        3. He did it – good for him!
        4. He did it – yuck!

  • Eric L  On November 13, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    I have no idea if this is what’s going on in Roy Moore’s case but an idea I have run across is that you should seek out teenagers because there is a decent chance they are virgins whereas older women rarely are. Any subculture that prizes virginity, particularly among women, is going to have this problem.

  • 1mime  On November 13, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    It appears that much of Congress’ horror over the alledged Moore charges would be very difficult for a young aide or page in Congress to pursue. Shocking, really.

  • nwbaxter  On November 18, 2017 at 9:36 am

    If Moore is elected McConnell and all the other RepubliKKKans who are offended now will line up and kiss his ass on the capitol steps and tell him it smells like roses. Hypocrisy is too kind a description for these people.


  • By Soulless Battle | The Weekly Sift on November 13, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    […] This week’s featured posts are “What Did Virginia Teach Us?” and “Roy Moore: Are we really having this conversation?” […]

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