“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison argued in Federalist 51. But he went on to say, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
These words were written to argue for a system of checks and balances in our Constitution, but they have some relevance to the controversy over Alabama Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Roy Moore.
The people of Alabama may well choose Moore as their senator, despite continuing allegations that Moore engaged in predatory behavior toward young girls when he worked as an attorney in Gadsen, Ala., and, in two instances, may have sexually assaulted underage girls. Moore’s supporters disbelieve the women who have come forward and blame the media and so-called establishment Republicans for a witch hunt. Moore’s wife has spread false rumors that the accusers were paid to tell their stories, and others have defended Moore’s actions by comparing the then 30-something attorney to the Biblical Joseph and his betrothed Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. That devout Christians are not sickened by such comparisons speaks worlds about the state of our politics today.
If Roy Moore were a decent man, he would step aside. But I said the same thing about Bill Clinton in 1998, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, and we all know what happened. Instead of doing the manly thing, Clinton clung to power and put the nation through the spectacle of semen-stained dresses and “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Clinton’s defenders were liberals, including feminists who saw nothing wrong in a 51-year old commander in chief engaging in sex acts with a 21-year-old intern in the Oval Office. Their defense was that his policies were good for the country, never mind his “private” behavior. Moore’s supporters say much the same today.
The most disheartening aspect of this story — even in the context of many dozens of stories of sexual misconduct by powerful men in Hollywood, the media and, now, Congress — is the double standard being applied by those in the Evangelical community. There was a time in the not too distant past when personal character mattered a great deal to Evangelical voters. But that view has been eroding for some time now — among all groups — but especially among Evangelicals. In 2011, only 30 percent of Evangelicals said, “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life,” but by 2016, 72 percent agreed in a poll taken by PRRI/Brookings.
So, what should happen if the good people of Alabama elect Roy Moore, despite credible allegations of misconduct? As Federalist 51 says, “experience has taught the necessity of auxiliary precautions” when the people fail. The rules of the U.S. Senate don’t allow the option not to seat Moore if elected, but they do allow, under Article I Section 5 of the Constitution, that the Senate may expel him by a two-thirds vote. If Alabama voters send Roy Moore to Congress, the Senate should exercise the extraordinary means at its disposal. Those who defend Moore say he deserves “his day in court,” so give it to him by allowing both accused and his accusers to testify under oath before the Senate. And if the accusers’ testimony holds up — as I believe it will — the Senate should vote to expel him.
It would be far better for everyone involved if Roy Moore did the honorable thing and stepped aside. But given the credulity of his supporters and the current state of our politics, I don’t expect that to happen, which is why James Madison’s argument for “auxiliary precautions” has never been more relevant.
— Linda Chavez is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.