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Compare the scandalized U.S. Senate campaign of Roy Moore of Alabama with a much milder but very dimly similar race in Arkansas not so long ago.

Moore stands accused of sexual abuse of teenage girls, mostly when he was a deputy prosecutor 40 years ago. One accuses him of attempted rape. Moore denies these allegations. He cannot deny the appalling excuses the Alabama GOP keeps making for him.

I have not darkened the door of a church in decades unless news was happening inside. Even my stomach churned when Alabama's state auditor compared Moore's attraction to teenagers to Joseph's betrothal to the Virgin Mary.

Now suppose every one of Moore's accusers is lying. He still accepted more than a million dollars from a charity he founded for promoting "moral law" and from which he publicly declared he took no salary.

Moore could still win the special election Dec. 12. His supporters seem to think they are poking their thumbs in the "establishment's" eye. From here, it looks more like they still believe a con man. Also, they are hostages of the only party they allow themselves to vote for. The Democrat in the race is a bonafide hero. He successfully prosecuted the murderers of little girls in a racist church bombing decades ago.

Contrast Alabama's race to the Arkansas U.S. Senate race of 2002. Compared to Moore, then-Sen. Tim Hutchinson's divorce and subsequent marriage to a younger woman who was well into her adulthood seems downright meek. Then-President George W. Bush, at the height of his popularity, flew to Arkansas to campaign for Hutchinson's re-election. It did not matter. Arkansas' senator had not lived up to the standards of his voters. He lost.

The voters were still in charge then, not their party. Voters are in charge only as long as they cannot be taken for granted.

My point is not to extol the virtue of Arkansas at Alabama's expense. This is a warning, not an apple polishing. The path from where Arkansas was then to where Alabama is now is not only short. It slopes steeply downward. One good fall and Arkansas will tumble down that path. There are already signs this state is losing its balance.

Before I go on, a disclaimer: One-party rule in Alabama is utterly corrupt. Moore is only the latest and most famous of a rogue's gallery. But remember, GOP rule there was preceded by 100 years of Democratic one-party rule that produced George Wallace, "segregation forever," voter suppression and horrific racial violence. The nation's first memorial dedicated to the victims of lynching will go up in Alabama next year for a reason. Today's warning is about the dangers of blind one-party devotion regardless of which party it is.

Republicans broke Democratic rule in Arkansas in 2010. The GOP took over control in 2014. Right now, federal investigators are at work in a case that has already elicited a former state legislator's guilty plea for kickbacks from the state General Improvement Fund. The trial of a former state senator is set to start next month.

One-party Republican control of this state is still new and largely led by those who waged lonely campaigns against one-party Democratic rule for decades. Even so, the lessons of the fight are already being forgotten.

Look where this path leads:

Alabama's governor resigned last year after recordings of his lurid naughty talk on the phone with his mistress came out. Oh, he did not resign for that. He only resigned when impeachment loomed because he had abused his powers as governor to try and cover up an affair. This included using his security detail to intimidate staff against talking.

The governor's tardy resignation happened after the speaker of the Alabama House was charged with corruption in an unrelated case. He was later convicted of 12 counts. Meanwhile, Moore was removed as chief justice of the state Supreme Court after grandstanding on the gay marriage issue and defying federal court rulings.

All that happened in the same year.

The people of Alabama deserve better, leaders there said while pressuring the governor to resign. A journalist there named Josh Moon disagreed in March 2016:

"The people of this state do not deserve better. The people of this state are getting exactly what they deserve, because the people of this state have, time and again, ignored reasonable, smart candidates -- both Republican and Democratic -- to vote for pandering, ignorant Neanderthals who profess loudly their morally superior character and promise wholly unconstitutional and un-American intentions."

That is precisely where Roy Moore comes from.

Commentary on 11/18/2017

Print Headline: The lessons from Alabama

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