How to Critique Roy Moore Without Resorting to Southern Stereotypes

The eyes of the nation are on a special election in Alabama to replace Senator Jeff Sessions, a long-time Republican stalwart who was appointed as attorney general by Donald Trump. Until very recently, the race seemed like a probable Republican win, with Judge Roy Moore commanding a considerable lead — but then four women came forward to say he had sexually harassed or assaulted them. At least one was underage at the time.

Now, this special election has become focused on a larger question: With a mounting list of allegations against him, is Moore fit for the job?

Fellow Republicans, the White House and celebrities have weighed in with their takes, contributing to the larger conversation about sexual harassment and assault.

Unfortunately, some of that commentary relies on stereotypes about Alabama and the South to criticize voters and imply that Moore’s actions are just par for the course in a part of the country some people view as backward and regressive. But that’s simply counterproductive and wrong. Here are four things to consider as you discuss about this issue, and Southern politics more broadly.

1. Alabama is a Big Place

Nearly five million people live in Alabama and almost 65 percent of them are white, like Roy Moore. The state has a high poverty rate, with a per capita income of just $24,000. Many areas of the state are medically underserved, and the legislature is highly conservative. 63 percent of the vote went to Donald Trump, and Trump’s approval ratings are higher in Alabama than many other parts of the country. So it’s safe to say that Alabama as a whole trends conservative.

But five million people is no small number. There are lots of liberal and progressive communities and organizations in Alabama dedicated to social justice issues — and they’re furious at the thought that their state may be electing a pedophile to the Senate.

Consider that this state houses the Equal Justice InitiativeAppleseed Center for Law and Justice, Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Alabama Civil Justice Foundation, Alabama Possible, ARISE Citizen’s Policy Project, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Teaching Tolerance and many other great justice organizations.

It also includes wonderful people like you who care about their state and its people and are excited at the prospect of making it a better place. Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones, has major grassroots support from people who are energized at the thought that they might get a senator who represents their values.

So don’t say that such a man could rise to prominence “only in Alabama,” because it’s not true. Instead, talk about the factors in Alabama politics that enabled his rise over the considerable will of people who think he’s a terrible person. Roy Moore is in the race in spite of those working against him — not because Alabama residents don’t care or aren’t working hard enough.

2. Focus on Roy Moore as a Person

Forget Alabama, the state: Who is Roy Moore, the person?

We know he’s virulently hateful and homophobic, an opponent of civil rights and an all-round bad dude. You can find people like Roy Moore in any state, but he rose to power in Alabama because his extremist conservative politics align with those in power — and they got there with the benefit of sensationalized campaigns, voter intimidation, nepotism and other tactics that aren’t fair or just.

So when you talk about all the problems with the Moore/Jones race, try to zoom in specifically on Roy Moore’s history, his public remarks and the allegations against him. This isn’t a referendum on Alabama, but a special election where voters are being asked to choose between a very qualified, experienced, compassionate candidate and a child molester.

Talk about how Moore has used scare tactics to woo support, but how throughout his tenure in Alabama, progressive communities have worked in opposition to him, too. Note that people are trying to discredit the women speaking out about their history with Moore, further illustrating that he has a very large network of friends in high places.

If someone says “a person like Roy Moore can only get this far in a state like Alabama,” invite them to take a close look at their own state houses and recent ballot measures. Ask them if they can confidently say there’s no sexual harassment or conservative extremism where they live.

In my home state of California, for example, the state capital is routinely rocked by sexual harassment and assault allegations in the corridors of government — but I don’t think Californians don’t care about sexual assault or that electing sexual predators is “just what happens in California.” Just nine years ago, the entire state voted to deny marriage equality to LGBQ Californians. Do I think California is a homophobic cesspool because of that? No, of course not!

3. Alabama Party Politics Reflect Larger GOP Politics

Moore is trying to help the GOP maintain its leverage in Congress, which is why — even in the face of the evidence against him — the GOP is slow to turn against him. After everything they know about Moore, some Republicans still think that a Senate seat is more important than the women who say he’s sexually abusive. That’s pretty scary, right? And it also highlights how desperate the GOP is to maintain its stranglehold on power.

So talk about how conservative extremists rise to power, supported by a party that views their beliefs as very much in alignment with its agenda. And discuss how a party that prides itself on “values” is propping up a man who got kicked out of a mall for creeping on young women. Or hey, let’s address how the party’s head has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by at least 16 women.

This isn’t Alabama’s fault: This is the fault of the Republican party’s very narrow mindset — and the belief that a literal sexual predator is better than a Democrat.

4. Think About Your Own State’s Stereotypes

Chances are high that there’s at least one stereotype about your state that you find incredibly annoying, if not actively hurtful. You wince when people refer to your state that way, or spend a lot of time clearing up misconceptions: “Hey, not everyone in my state is that way, actually.”

Put yourself in the shoes of people living and working in Alabama: How would you like it if the entire country was making a laughingstock out of your state, despite the hard work that people like you put into it. It probably wouldn’t feel super great.

It’s okay to acknowledge broad, indisputable trends: For example, Alabama has a high poverty rate, and we have the numbers to back up that claim. But think about ways to spin those statistics. Instead of “everyone in Alabama lives in a trailer park and doesn’t own shoes,” what about “the wealth gap in Alabama is a significant problem, and people like Doug Jones are working to achieve greater equity so everyone in the state has a chance to succeed.”

The bottom line: Do as you would be done by. Many Southern activists feel very alienated from those in the other parts of the country, and some have had their work minimized and written off with sweeping cruel statements about their home states. Solidarity with activists in the South yields tremendous results, so try extending an olive branch!

Photo credit: Elliott P.

72 comments

Marie W
Marie W12 months ago

Thanks

SEND
Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago

TY

SEND
Karen Swenson
Karen Sabout a year ago

@Brian F--Yes, Really!

SEND
Rhoberta E
Rhoberta Eabout a year ago

brian f
VOTED FOR MS.CLINTON AND THE DEMOCRATS !!!
brian, as a professional leader in healthcare, I would NEVER tell staff, students patients or other colleagues that I had the right answer if I really didn't know it. I would simply say, "I don't know but let's go and find the answer" That's what ADULTS do brian so unlike you, I don't need to have folks think I know it all or name call like toddler trump IF they have an opposing view. GROW UP !!!Get your attention elsewhere rather than from behind a computer screen being a coward!!

SEND
Brian F
Brian Fabout a year ago

Karen S Really. The Democrats under the Obozo installed crook Tom Perez just fired all the honest progressives who support Bernie Sanders, and you defend them? Now the Democrats have very few people who will support them, because most progressives will vote for Jill Stein. But like Rhoberta and the other corporate fake Democrats here, you lack any intelligence, and will watch as your corrupt Democratic party loses to this fraud Trump again in 2020.

SEND
Brian F
Brian Fabout a year ago

Rhoberta Really, You know more than most progressives like Noam Chomsky, Cornell West, Jimmy Dore, Cenk Uygur, Susan Surandon, Josh Fox, Glen Greenwald and many others, who agree with me, that the Democrats caused this fraud Trump to win, by becoming corrupt and corporate owned like the Republicans, cheating Bernie Sanders out of his primary, and anointing a Wall Street crook Hillary, who most people hate. Trump was the worst candidate of all time, so Hillary had to be horrible to lose to him. You're just a liar like Karen S and all the other corporate fake Democrats on this site, who defend the Democratic party that is just as corrupt as the Republicans, and supports Israel's oppression of the Palestinians.

SEND
Brian F
Brian Fabout a year ago

Karen S You're a liar, like all the corporate fake Democrats here. Your corrupt Democratic party caused this fraud Trump to win, by becoming corrupt and corporate owned like the Republicans, cheating Bernie Sanders out of his primary, lying about the Nevada convention, by falsely claiming Bernie Sanders supporters were violent, and anointing your corporatist and war monger, Hillary, who was so corrupt, Republicans voted for her. If anyone is a Republican Trump supporter, it's corporate fake Democrats like you, who refuse to accept any blame for the corruption in your Democratic party, that caused this fraud Trump to be elected. I support Jill Stein who is honest, and didn't support natural gas fracking, Monsanto, refuse to support Medicare for All, and take 21 million dollars from Wall Street for speeches and refuse to release the transcripts like your crook and liat Hillary did.

SEND
Karen Swenson
Karen Sabout a year ago

@Roberta E--Brian F--is a Republican troll, with a different goofy twist. He constantly rehashes 2016, and uses it as an excuse to parrot his Hatred for Hillary, Obama, and all other Democrats, adds a thin veiled dis against Republicans, then he thinks he is so clever, touting Bernie Sanders as his hero, knowing full well there is nothing that can be done about past elections. This is his simpleton way of trying to detract us from these disgusting Republicans. And NO ROBERTA---YOU ARE NOT THE MINORITY--I stand right with you, as I know many do here too.

SEND
Rhoberta E
Rhoberta Eabout a year ago

brian f
I wondered how long it would take you to invoke the name of "Darlene"
So ALL the members who have asked you to stop what you do and move on are wrong too. YOUR name calling and a wish for someone to die unless he believes what YOU believe are wrong and bad because YOU say so ??? MOST Progressives don't feel the need to rehash 2016 and all those politicians and news media that YOU do at least 10-15 times a day on EVERY article.
Actually here on C2 concerning YOU I am NOT in the minority.
Darlene just says get along while singing Kumbaya with lavender oils. She REALLY has nothing of value to contribute.

SEND
Winn Adams
Winn Adamsabout a year ago

Petition Signed - He should be in jail NOW.

SEND