As people say down here in the Bible Belt: "Bless their hearts."
In this case, we are talking about folks on the national desk at The New York Times, who set out to explain why there is a chance that former Judge Roy Moore will still win a ticket to the U.S. Senate in Alabama, in his race with liberal Democrat Doug Jones. The headline: "Alabama’s Disdain for Democrats Looms Over Its Senate Race."
The bad news is that, if you just scan the headline, you'd think that the unfolding train wreck in Alabama is all about party politics and that's that. Any religion angles to this soap opera? What do you think?
The good news is that, about 800 or so words into this piece, the Times team starts digging into some complex and interesting information about why so many Alabama voters -- people who really, really don't want to vote for Moore -- may end up voting for him anyway or writing in a third option. Fact is, it's kind of like a bad flashback of the 2016 presidential race.
What's going on? Way, way into this report there is this:
John D. Saxon, an Alabama lawyer and a decades-long stalwart of Democratic politics, said he had recently been out Christmas shopping when a man he did not know approached him in a parking lot. The man had a message for Mr. Jones.
“You tell him if he’ll change his position on abortion, I can get him all the Republican votes he’s going to need,” the man said, according to Mr. Saxon.
A few lines later there is this second piece of the combination punch, care of Jared Arsement, who worked with pro-life Democrat John Bel Edwards, who was elected governor in deep-red Louisiana:
“If Roy Moore wins,” he said, “it will only be because of Doug Jones’s stance on abortion.”
Or, as I put things the other day on Twitter:
Now, as I said earlier, it takes the Times team lot of ink to get to material debating this issue. Along the way, check out this thesis statement:
Alabama Republicans who are looking for an alternative to Mr. Moore are turned off by the Democrats over a constellation of issues -- Supreme Court nominations, the scope of federal regulation, the fact that a Democrat would probably stymie President Trump’s agenda and the general sense that the national Democratic brand is in conflict with white Southern culture.
That leads to what many will consider the killer quote in this piece.
“I don’t think the Lord Jesus could win as a Democrat in Alabama,” said Brad Chism, who runs a Democratic communications firm in Mississippi that has conducted surveys of female voters in Alabama in recent weeks.
Well, that would depend on whether the Lord Jesus disagrees with 2,000 years of Christian doctrines on several key moral and social issues. But, I digress.
Some of the political commentary in this report is valid, of course, but it doesn't cut to the heart of the story that the Times team did a solid job of reporting -- eventually. The bottom line: Religious and cultural conservatives who totally oppose Moore are really depressed about their options in this race. Again, think about the 2016 White House race (once again, I point readers to Christianity Today).
You can see the same religion-shaped hole in that recent Times profile of the Democratic candidate. That story never even gets to the abortion issue, at all.
Now, the new Times piece does make a valid point -- which is that abortion, for some voters, is a one-word summary of their concerns about a host of issues. In other words (reading between the lines), there would be problems if Jones was a conservative or centrist on abortion, but liberal on other moral and cultural issues -- especially on those with religious liberty implications.
Thus, readers are told:
“It may be that abortion is shorthand for a whole bunch of liberal Democratic issues that someone would identify with Chuck Schumer,” he said, referring to the Senate minority leader.
Abortion is one of the few issues that caused people to switch parties in past years, said Clyde Wilcox, a professor of government at Georgetown University who has studied the politics of abortion. But, he said the party sorting process has essentially played out, and stances toward abortion are now nearly synonymous with party identification.
“We’ve become so tribal to our politics, we want our tribe to dominate Congress for all kinds of reasons,” Professor Wilcox said. “Of all those issues, the one that is the easiest to say, but also maybe the most intense, would be abortion.” If an anti-abortion Democrat were running in the Alabama race, Professor Wilcox said, “my guess is most of the people saying ‘abortion’ would just be saying something else.”
That's a very interesting subject and, to my way of thinking, that political/moral question is the most important issue in this piece. I happen to disagree with Wilcox, but that's a point that's worthy of debate.
Maybe that point should have been raised, and debated, at the start of the story, not at the end? Just asking.