In today’s WSJ, the Editorial Board observes that Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore’s defeat yesterday in his campaign for a seat in the US Senate that is
… a lesson to the Republican Party, and President Trump, that many GOP voters are still at heart character voters. They will only accept so much misbehavior in a politician, no matter the policy stakes. Mr. Trump opposed Mr. Moore in the primary but came around to support him even after the accusations emerged about Mr. Moore’s pursuit of teenage girls while he was in his 30s. The GOP voters who ignored Mr. Trump and rejected Mr. Moore also want a President who acts presidential.
While Americans often fail to live up to our ideals, we are (for the most part) a people who strive to be virtuous.
As it does in the individual, our national commitment to virtue waxes and wanes. Both parties have in recent years put forward candidates with serious moral shortcomings.
These moral deficiencies are reflected not only in policies that are contrary to “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” As we saw in the recent US Presidential campaign, our candidates also can be seriously morally flawed. More than one person told me that when they voted in the 2016 election they voted not for the “best candidate” but for the “lesser of two evils.”
Yes, democracy isn’t a perfect form of government but in this life, what form of government is? St Augustine is instructive here:
Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor” (City of God, Book IV.4).
Americans have always understood that–absent virtue in ourselves and in our politicians–democracy will become tyrannical.
With this in mind, I see Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama as a hopeful sign that Americans are coming to realize that a just government requires that we elect virtuous men and women to office. It isn’t enough that we choose those who pass laws that conform to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Much less should we simply pick leaders who agree with us.
We must elect men and women of good–and ideally, sterling–moral character. Whether guilty or not of things of which he stands accused, Moore’s behavior over the years was such that these allegations were enough to turn the election.
Make no mistake. The allegations were damaging to his campaign not because the women were credible (though I think they were). No, the allegations were credible and so harmful because, in the minds of many voters, Moore’s character was already in question.
As I said above, though far from perfect. Americans are usually a virtuous people. God willing, we have reached (or at least reaching) a tipping point. Hopefully, we have reached the point where Americans will no longer feel compelled to vote for the “lesser of two evils.”
Yes, for a time this might mean that truly evil people are elected and that truly harmful laws are passed. God forbid this happen. But if it does, it is because the two major parties will continue to nominate candidates with serious personal moral shortcomings.
No, when we enter a voting booth we aren’t choosing a pastor. To argue based on this that character doesn’t matter or that policy matters more, is simply wrongheaded. We must elect morally good men and women to hold political office. If we don’t, then even good and just laws will prove to be insufficient. When we entrust good laws to the care of bad leaders show we are worse than slaves; we are fools.