Allegations of sexual misconduct have ended Roy Moore's bid to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a senator from Alabama. The extremely close election was something of a puzzle to a lot of outside observers, who wondered what the good people of Alabama could be thinking. About half of them were backing a man who, according to very credible allegations, allegedly lured a 14-year-old girl to his isolated house, lay her down on the floor, returned wearing nothing but underpants, and proceeded to partly undress her and then guide her hand to his crotch. He was in his 30s at the time.
Alabama is a very red state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Its new senator Doug Jones, who at the start of this campaign had no chance whatsoever of winning, is not just a Democrat but a liberal-leaning one. Alabama had not voted in a Democratic senator of any kind in 25 years. At the same time, Alabama election rules made it difficult or impossible for the Republican party to replace Moore as a candidate with only a month to go before the election.
All of this explains why Alabamans came so close to electing Moore their next senator. And yet, it's still shocking when you consider his actions in the context of his public persona--as a voice for Christian morality, the one who says he knows that others, such as liberal billionaire George Soros, are going to hell. In the end, I'm guessing, his conservative Christian constituency just couldn't stomach the disjuncture between their faith and the acts this man is alleged to have committed.
Moore's loss narrows the Republicans' Senate majority to a single vote, but many Republican senators are probably relieved even so. Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that, if elected, Moore would face an immediate ethics investigation, so the election results have at least saved them from that headache.
The Fake News Defense
They may also be evidence that the fake news defense has limits. To those of us in the media it's been kind of mind-bending how simply claiming that all unwelcome information is fake news has recently proved a very effective way of deflecting accusations. For example, President Donald Trump, who previously acknowledged the authenticity of the "Access Hollywood" tape in which he's heard bragging about grabbing women's private parts now says it wasn't him after all.
So it was no surprise when Moore claimed the allegations against him were fake news and that he had never done what he was accused of. In fact, he claimed, the accusations were part of a conspiracy to keep him out of the Senate and thus prevent the changes he would make once there. That was good enough for Trump, who campaigned for Moore and responded to questions about his sexual dealings with minors this way: "He says it didn't happen. You have to listen to him also."
That's a problem. Sexual harassment and sexual assault rarely take place in front of eyewitnesses. So it will nearly always come down to a question of whom you believe. In Moore's case, though, the accusers do have some evidence to support their stories. Moore's 14-year-old accuser and her mother both recall that Moore approached them and offered to watch the young girl outside the courtroom while the mother testified in a custody hearing. That's when he struck up an acquaintance that was followed by an invitation to his house. Court records show that the accuser's mother did indeed testify in a hearing on the day in question, and the girl's friends from that time remember her talking about her involvement with an older man. Similarly, one woman whom Moore claims not to know still has her high school yearbook signed in his handwriting.
Most victims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse don't have this kind of evidence to back up their claims, especially not when making accusations years or decades after the event. So we face a difficult choice. Either we dismiss most such claims since they can't be proven--which was basically what happened most of the time before this year's flood of harassment scandals. Or else we consider the reality that, when investigated, most such claims turn out to be true and so we give accusers the benefit of the doubt.
Neither solution is perfect, but taking such allegations seriously seems better than mostly ignoring them. It looks like voters in Alabama think so too.