Republicans are failing the Roy Moore test

Republicans are failing the Roy Moore test

The Washington Post
By Michael Gerson
Image courtesy of Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The prospect of Sen. Roy Moore has been both horrifying and clarifying. It would be difficult to design a more controlled, precise test of the moral gag reflex in politics.

In this political lifeboat dilemma, Republicans are being asked what principles they are willing to throw overboard in the interest of power. A belief that character matters in politics? Splash. A commitment to religious and ethnic inclusion? Splash. Moral outrage at credible charges of sexual predation against teen girls? Splash.

Those remaining in this lightened boat display a kind of shocking clarity. They value certain political ends — tax cuts, a conservative judiciary — more than ethical considerations. When it comes to confirming judges who oppose Roe v. Wade, the vote of a statesman is no better than the vote of a sexual predator — or, presumably, of a drug dealer or a murderer. This type of calculation admits no limiting principle.

So, in this view, it does not really matter that there is (as Ivanka Trump put it) “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts” in Moore’s case. It does not matter that Moore’s explanations have been shifting and slippery. It does not matter that Moore has said that homosexual behavior should be illegal, or that he compared resisting gay marriage to resisting the Holocaust, or that he referred to Asians as “yellows,” or that he doesn’t believe former president Barack Obama is a natural born citizen, or that he believes there are communities living under shariah law in Illinois and Indiana.

Those willing to swallow all this — all the ignorance, cruelty, creepiness and malice — have truly shown the strength of their partisan commitment. A purity indistinguishable from mania.

The hope for American politics is found in the reverse, the photographic negative, of all these trends. In leaders who affirm and exemplify the nobility of the political enterprise. In arguments that elevate principle above expediency. In institutions that shape character, confront corruption, take the side of the exploited and echo the newly pertinent question: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

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