Where to start? The Internet, of course, had a number of answers, as take-down tweet after take-down tweet after sharp satire streamed in. The bottom line for many aggrieved readers of the ill-received Federalist article was this: The site was irresponsible to publish such a uniquely awful piece.
Maybe. Or maybe not. People have struggled to understand how anyone could possibly vote for Moore after multiple women accused him of pursuing them as teens. The Federalist piece is indeed uniquely awful, but it’s so awful it’s almost useful: Its moral bankruptcy lays bare what is wrong with all those other more specific, slightly subtler excuses for sending Moore to the Senate.
There is the subheadline, to start with. If Moore had messed with writer Tully Borland’s 14-year-old daughter, Borland wouldn’t tolerate it. But as long as it’s someone else’s kid, he seems to imply, that’s fine. This may be the starkest and most straightforward example yet of excusing an alleged sexual assaulter only when his actions don’t affect us or anyone we care about.
That’s the first of many familiar arguments that look weaker than ever through the lens of Borland’s piece. Next, Borland stretches the “different time” defense beyond belief. Sure, Borland quotes a philosophy professor who is “sick to death of people imposing their own moral standards on people of the past,” but he’s not content to stay in the 1970s. Borland reaches back all the way to … the 1600s, when the historical Sami roamed Northern Scandinavia to establish the evolutionary merit of marrying a young girl “if one wants to raise a large family.”
Worse yet, by focusing on age alone, Borland’s opening salvo ignores the reality that forcing oneself on someone is wrong, whether that someone is 14 or 40.
Borland rolls merrily along to casting cherry-picked doubt on what he points out are decades-old accusations, and in the same set of paragraphs agreeing to “suppose the accusations are mostly true.” He then proceeds to defend one of the most objectionable trends among Moore supporters: Saying Moore is scum, but that scum with an “R” next to its name is better than a Democrat. Borland’s central argument here is that “never voting for a lesser evil means never voting.”
The problem, of course, is that this assumes Democratic rival Doug Jones is a greater evil than Moore. And that assumption strips away all pretext to reveal what the Alabama election is really about: abortion. Borland scoffs at the apparently ludicrous idea that “Moore, as an old, married man, is still trying to have sex with teens” (as if matrimony or advanced age has stopped other men outed as abusers), and then says Jones is worse because he supports unrestricted abortion now. The pro-choice/pro-life divide can cut deep enough to decide a race — and deeper, the Moore debacle is proving, than alleged sexual misconduct involving minors.
With muddled excuse after muddled excuse, Borland makes the ultimate takeaway all too clear. One minute, Moore isn’t so bad after all. The next, it doesn’t matter how bad Moore is, because “a vote is not an expression of agreement with everything about a candidate or a candidate’s views.”
And then Borland hammers it home: “If Moore should step aside,” he says, “so should Jones.” He isn’t simply telling readers to vote according to the overall societal outcome they’d prefer. He’s making a character judgment about Moore and Jones that puts them on the same plane. And to do it, he’s conflating a political position with a personal pattern of preying on children.
“Politics,” Borland concludes by declaring, “is never pure.” He’s probably right. But each and every argument by Moore’s supporters makes the business even dirtier.