Glad tidings! Today, Roy Moore faced an ethics panel for his defiance of a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court building. And the news just in is that they have issued a formal complaint against Moore — suspending him from his duties on the Alabama Supreme Court while the complaint goes before the Court of the Judiciary. If the complaint is upheld in the Court, Moore could be removed from the bench — a victory not only for the rule of law, but for the people of Alabama: someone who is willing to defy a federal court order in order to pull a petty political stunt and push his fundamentalist agenda is a threat to all of us.
Whichever way it turns out, the Associate Justices have at least found the backbone to unanimously overrule Moore and order that the monument be removed from the rotunda [WSFA]. (They can overrule the normal administrative authority of the Chief Justice by a unanimous vote.) So the state of Alabama will most likely not be facing fines for non-compliance, and the damn thing will be moved.
This phase of the battle is winding down, and unless something unexpected happens, you can count on the story to drop out of the national limelight soon. Unfortunately, the whole chain of events has left the national press more or less mystified as to what was going on. Worse, they didn’t realize that they were mystified; they simply substituted their own cariacature of Southern politics for the facts of the matter —
redneck jamboree might be an apt description of the picture you get of the events in Montgomery from the coverage in, say, the Washington Post or the New York Times. So let me take a moment to talk about some of these misconceptions.
First, while Moore certainly has a strong base of support amongst white conservatives in Alabama — that’s how he got elected, after all — the crazy-Right Christian fundamentalist demonstrators who have been picked out as mouthpieces for Moore are, by and large, not from Alabama. The events in Montgomery were coordinated on the ground by flacks of the Christian Coalition; supporting organizations flew people in from nearly every state. Although there were certainly Alabamians demonstrating outside of the courthouse, local newsreporters found that they were distinctly a minority amidst the crowds brought in by the Christian Defense Council, Christian Coalition, and others. Meanwhile in television punditry, the only major Alabama faces were John Giles of the Alabama Christian Coalition and Roy Moore himself. Most commentary came from yet more out-of-state professional Christians, such as representatives from Concerned Women for America.
The point of all this is that national media has gotten it wrong about who they are reporting on; it’s not a matter of Alabamians, but rather a matter of the nation-wide network of Religious Right fundamentalists, who happen to be using events in Alabama as their focal point. To say that this reflects one way or another on Alabama is no more accurate than to say the 500 attendees of Southern Girls Convention 2001 in Auburn make Alabama a hotbed of radical feminist activism.
Closely related to this misunderstanding are the incessant comparisons that the national press makes between Roy Moore and George Wallace. Sure, both of them are Southern demagogues who rode a hard Right white quasi-populism to public office and national attention. Sure, both of them acted in defiance of federal courts demanding protection of the civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Sure, both of them had a penchant for flamboyant confrontation and ultimately served to embarass the state of Alabama in the national spotlight. But the similarities end there. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of Roy Moore’s position and his motivations to read this as just another crisis over the powers of Southern states vis-a-vis the federal government. Although some of those supporting Roy Moore have given states’ rights as a reason against obeying the federal court, that is not the primary reasons that Roy Moore gives. Here are the reasons that Moore gives:
Separation of church and state never was meant to separate God from our government. It was never meant to separate God from our law.
The question is not whether I will remove the monument. It is not a question of whether I will disobey or obey a court order. The real question is whether or not I will deny the God that created us.
It’s not about states’ rights for Moore; it’s about Jesus. The issue is not his understanding of federalism but rather his understanding of the proper relationship between God and the State. His aims are not decentralist, but rather theocratic. To fail to understand this is to fail to understand the new breed of confrontational conservatism that Moore and his followers represent — a breed of conservatism that the Religious Right has been spreading for the past 30 years or so now.
Complaining about the Yankee press, of course, is not to say that there are not plenty of homegrown misunderstandings of Moore — there are lots, coming from his own defenders. But comments on the Right-wing deviationists will have to wait for a while. In the meantime, let’s just bask in the glow of these happy events: Roy Moore is suspended from his position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Hosanna, and amen.