Roy Moore’s Senate campaign is running a TV commercial featuring a cheap lie that harms public faith in our constitutional system.
On a personal level, the lie isn’t as vicious as the smear-by-out-of-context-innuendo to which a recent Doug Jones ad has subjected Moore. In terms of systemic damage, though, Moore’s commercial is somewhat worse, as it adds to a long series of claims, events and trends that wrongly convince many voters our system is “rigged” by shadowy, powerful forces.
When Richard Hofstadter wrote his infamous essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in 1964, it surrounded the germ of truth with a bunch of highfalutin’ claptrap used as a way to take cheap shots at conservatives. Unfortunately, though, today’s political world truly does exhibit a vast amount of outlandish paranoia all across the political spectrum; Moore’s TV spot cynically plays on, and exacerbates, that paranoia.
The Moore ad references the now-famous sexual-impropriety accusations against Moore by calling them “false allegations” (maybe) resulting from “a scheme by liberal elites and the Republican establishment to protect their big-government trough.”
That second part, about the alleged scheme, is a lie. (If it’s not, the Moore campaign should prove its contention. Put up, or shut up.) It features photos of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (with a crown on his head) along with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, while big-dollar bills erupt out of the U.S. Capitol dome.
Before examining this further, let us be clear: The word “lie” is used here very carefully. Not every falsehood is a lie; some are just mistakes. A falsehood is a lie only if the one telling it either knows it not to be true or if he spreads the information with willful disregard for whether it is true or not – for self-serving purposes, with no real attempt to ascertain if it is indeed accurate.
The allegation that the Republican establishment and liberal elites are colluding to invent false accusations against Moore is the latter kind of lie. Not only is it untrue, but it relies on absurdist logic and/or a serious ignorance about how our government and politics actually work.
To be clear, McConnell has much for which to answer in this race. He and his team screwed things up at every step. But not only is there no evidence that McConnell or his team had anything to do with scheming to bring down Moore with these allegations, there also is not a shred of reason for them to have done so. The idea doesn’t just lack sense; it runs directly counter to all logic and all political reality.
As soon as the primary was over, Moore was the Republican candidate – and McConnell desperately needs a Republican to win. With only a two-vote Republican majority in a Senate full of GOP lone wolves, McConnell clearly was looking past his doubts about Roy Moore and starting to help Moore. That’s why the National Republican Senatorial Committee was helping support Moore’s campaign, financially and organizationally – because in a choice between Moore and the liberal Jones, of course the Republican establishment wanted Moore to be the senator.
And the very last thing they would want is an official Republican nominee to suddenly be credibly charged with teen abuse, and for the party to be faced with a damned-either-way dilemma in which a huge swath of the country would believe Republicans willingly overlook ephebophilia.
Meanwhile, here’s some news for conspiracy mongers: Roy Moore, in his self-appointed role as principled Christian conservative, represented not a single threat to the supposed “big government trough.” The DC ethos surely is flawed, but the system – especially the financial side of it – wasn’t threatened by a single junior senator in his 70s, especially one whose actual record and public advocacy on non-cultural-hot-button issues actually is rather moderate.
(Remember, too: The McConnell henchmen spent far more money and effort attacking Mo Brooks in the first primary than it did attacking Moore. Brooks, not Moore, was the one they really feared.)
There was no reason and no motive for McConnell’s minions, after Moore was the nominee, to have concocted false allegations of such a nature against Moore. Zero, zilch, nada. And there is no evidence they did so. (Indeed, through the journalistic grapevine, the story I’ve heard of how the Washington Post stumbled onto these allegations is a classic of a shoe-leather reporter being in the right place at the right time, with utterly apolitical sources.)
Mitch McConnell wants a vote for conservative judges, and a vote to replace Obamacare, and a vote to undo regulations. The last thing he wants is to be stuck with no choice other than one between a Republican colleague who is thought by many to be a sexual abuser and a liberal Democrat who will vote with Schumer 90 percent of the time.
Indeed, what’s truly insane in the Moore ad is the idea that somehow McConnell and Schumer are on the same side of anything, or that they are self-consciously protecting a system whose insider privileges are more important to them than are their vast policy, political, and personal differences.
To spread this myth, to feed this paranoia, about a political “class” whose ties supersede their partisan differences, all at the expense of their own constituents, is to undermine basic, small-‘r’ republican understandings among the populace.
There is no grand conspiracy. Period. End of story.
But there is a cottage industry of political hacks, or of tactical Leninists such as the blowhard Steve Bannon, who see either money or political power to be snatched if they somehow convince the public to believe the lie that the conspiracy exists.
Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.