The genius of Roy Moore
There are plenty of unusual things about Roy Moore. His stated policy positions are not among them.
With a few interesting exceptions related to trade and foreign policy, Moore's positions are only bad in the bland and unremarkable manner of other red-state Republican congressional candidates. The former chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, who just won the Republican Senate primary in that state and will almost certainly win the general election in December, mouths along with the usual GOP talking points about "lower taxes, smaller government, and less spending" that will "reduce the deficit and enable economic growth and a truly 'stimulated' economy." (Truly!) He operates under the illusion that it is not only possible but desirable for the Affordable Care Act to be "repealed completely" and insists that America does "not need socialized medicine."
This is not to imply that Moore doesn't say wild things. He surely does. Indeed, to say that Moore is not a polished candidate is like calling Kim Jong Un a basketball fan. At campaign rallies Moore wears what appears to be a leather waistcoat and a 10-gallon hat. He neither thinks nor speaks in talking points. As far as I am aware, law-enforcement professionals and academic sociologists are still on the hunt for the fabled "communities under Sharia law right now" in the hinterlands of Illinois alluded to by the good judge in a remarkable interview with Vox.
Moore is not a typical bloviating blue-blazered Republican seeking elected office on his way to a D.C. consulting gig. He is certainly not Karl Rove-approved. It would not astonish me to learn that he puts one or more condiments on his steaks. His Christian faith has been the defining attribute of his campaign, and he doesn't mince words.
This, I think, is why he won.
In "A short history of Roy Moore's controversial interpretations of the Bible," a recent article in The Washington Post, we learn a great deal about Moore. Among other things, the judge would like "to see virtue and morality returned to our country." He claims that his loyalty to Almighty God is a higher calling than his allegiance to the United States of America and that "removing the sovereignty of a Christian God from the functions of government is an act of apostasy." You can call this disgusting, out of touch, antithetical to The Way We Live Now. But as a reading of scripture it is only "controversial" in the sense that "controversial" is a dog-whistling word that means "something the writer thinks is bad." Liberal Christians may not agree with Moore, but their reasons won't have much to do with the words of the Bible.
The genius of Moore is that he is unwilling to join in the usual proceduralist games that social conservatives in this country have been playing and losing for decades. It doesn't matter to him in the slightest whether erecting a monument to the Decalogue on the grounds of the Alabama Supreme Court is a violation of the Establishment Clause or whether there is any constitutional warrant for proscribing sodomy, though as it happens he believes that in both cases he is legally in the clear. Roe v. Wade is not for him an unfortunate decision handed down by the Supreme Court without any identifiable basis in the plain words of the Constitution; it is wrong because the slaughter of infants is wrong. It does not occur to him to couch his support for these positions in legalistic terms. He holds them because he believes they are true.
This is the only way forward for social conservatives in this country. No progressive cares a fig whether Justice Anthony Kennedy's psychedelic prose poem of a decision in Obergefell is "constitutional." Obviously it isn't. So why should opponents of same-sex marriage fight with one hand behind their backs? Straight shooting? Decorum? Being the bigger man? This isn't a polo match.
It would be a mistake to imagine that there is some kind of significant causal relationship between Moore's rise and the victory of President Trump, who seems to be under the impression that the judge's name is "Ray." Trump's appeal to voters was strictly material: He spoke to the economic anxieties of middle America and to a vague, and distinctly pagan, post-modern conception of patriotism as theater and "Support the Troops" Facebook sentimentality. He clearly has no strong beliefs about religious questions.
Meanwhile there is something awkward and cursory, almost willfully negligent, about Moore's recital of conservative economic orthodoxy. It is obvious that he is concerned with morals, not money. As it happens, I think there is a very straightforward logical connection between the classical liberal economics preached by the Republican Party for decades now and the moral chaos by which Moore, almost uniquely in today's GOP, seems genuinely disquieted. To claim that our moral life must be oriented toward the good but that our economic life can be oriented toward anything that turns a profit — cheap appliances, trash television, payday loans — is oxymoronic.
Moore is light years away from considering this tension, but it is heartening to think that there soon might be at least one person in the United States Senate for whom Christ is more important than Milton Friedman.