The Pandora’s Box of Populism: The Good, but Mostly Bad, of Roy Moore’s Victory
The Republican primary for the senatorial special election in Alabama to fill the seat of now-Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has concluded with a populist upset.
State judge, Roy Moore, with little funding, little to no establishment GOP support, and even with the lack of the President’s blessing, still managed to ride the same wave of populism that propelled Trump to the White House this past November. The very populism he seemed to forsake in his support for incumbent, Luther Strange.
At first glance, his win may seem like a chance for all stripes of government skeptics to cheer. The entire establishment was against him and his funds were meager compared to his competitors. Moore’s victory is proof that a candidate’s message still has the ability to overcome the corrupting influence of money in politics and political insiders. But that is where the silver lining ends.
Overall, Moore is not the champion of civil liberties we should root for, as can be seen in the following ways:
- Opposition to gay marriage, or any other form of contractual legal union between members of the same sex.
- Opposition to legal abortion and support of charging abortion doctors with homicide.
- Contempt for the separation of church and state as noted by his opposition to the ending of state-sanctioned prayer in public schools per Engel v. Vitale, 1962.
His opposition to these major factors of liberal individualism is a setback for the Republican Party that has finally began moving away from such harsh positions on social wedge issues, substituting in more moderate stances, or at least acceptance of the fact that like it or not change has occurred and society isn’t moving backward.
His proponents will say that his support for full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, tough stance on immigration, and championing of religious freedom are all worth putting up with the less desirable aspects of his policy positions. Yet Senator Strange, himself of course flawed, has also been supportive of these positions, too, without the outright contempt for various social freedoms.
Neither of the candidates were prime choices. But when a moderate-leaning conservative and a firebrand populist with contempt for civil liberties are your options, the former is the rational choice over the latter. Even Trump himself, who has been accused of the same sort of firebrand populism Moore espouses (though Trump was arguably more moderate on a variety of social issues than Moore) saw this logic and threw his support to Strange.
Yet it was too late. Trump delivered the most recent Pandora’s box of populism into American politics and once elected tried to keep it contained. As of Tuesday, Alabama voters blew the lid off the box, and the consequences could be grave.