As many know, the very controversial Senate race in Alabama is over with the Democrats winning a big victory in an overwhelmingly conservative state. The big reason for this victory, other than the fact that Roy Moore was already pretty unpopular to begin with, was the sexual assault allegations on Moore and the accusations that he went after under-aged girls when he was a young man. Many viewed these accusations as credible, including a lot of conservative Alabamans, which is why there were over 22,000 write-in votes (many of which cheekily voted for Nick Saban). Moore denied these allegations (though he seemed to change his story a couple of times), and his defenders complained that to punish Moore for them was to invert the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Moore was not convicted of anything and likely never will be, so why give an ounce of credibility to the accusations?
I think this line of thinking is mistaken and forgets to evaluate Moore’s situation carefully. Now, I’m the first person to tell people not to overreact to headlines, and I generally think it is deplorable that people jump to conclusions regarding people’s guilt. We’ve seen how doing so can destroy the lives of people who are actually innocent, such as Officer Wilson in the Michael Brown case and the Duke lacrosse players. Still, there is a difference between having enough evidence for a criminal conviction (which should meet a very, very high standard) and enough evidence for rational people to smell that something stinks. The evidence against Moore doesn’t meet the former right now, but I think there is enough to justify people’s reluctance about him and for him to face some consequences, such as losing an election (which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t exactly some hefty punishment).
Criminal Conviction vs. Other Consequences
In a previous post addressing police shootings, I noted that in many such cases, there just wasn’t enough evidence to convict the police officers of wrongdoing (though that’s not always true; I’m still at a loss on how some officers get off the hook, like the one who shot Daniel Shaver and the one who choked Eric Garner, both on video). Still, even if there’s not enough evidence to convict, in at least some cases, there’s enough evidence to find the whole event fishy. Officer Jeronimo Yanez lost his job after he shot someone despite being acquitted, and that seemed like a reasonable decision because he was not clearly innocent like Officer Wilson and there was enough evidence to be suspicious. Though I think the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” should go beyond just criminal proceedings, the standard of evidence does not need to be the same. In many ways, it shouldn’t be the same since that would block all sorts of rational decision-making that we do all the time. If a girl’s generally trustworthy friend told her that some guy tried to molest her, she would probably avoid being alone with that guy even if that’s not enough to go to court and get a conviction of any kind.
Now consider the evidence against Moore:
-Multiple women have said that he tried to get at them when they were very young, often under-aged. Their mothers confirm this. At least one woman said that he tried to do something to her when she was under 18.
-Though some Moore backers claimed that this was a media smear campaign, that does not mean that the women have ulterior motives. Suspicion against the media is justified these days and there is no doubt that it had political agenda here, but again, that doesn’t mean the women did. They were mostly conservative women who even voted for Trump.
-The women all told similar stories and established a pattern of behavior that was consistent despite no evidence of collusion.
-Moore’s own defense changed a couple of times in inconsistent ways.
Is that enough to throw Moore in jail? Doesn’t seem like it. But is it enough to find the whole thing creepy and to think that he should have stepped down from the race? I think so. The women come off as credible witnesses with no hidden agendas. Each one’s testimony is consistent with one another’s. Moore had a crummy defense. I’m not someone who thinks that a woman who makes an accusation is automatically credible and, again, I’m pretty wary of how any random accusation can destroy people’s lives because of a rush to judgment, but here it seems like there is a credible case against Moore’s character.
I don’t even think most people on the left are arguing that Moore should go to prison because there’s just not enough there to prosecute. Again, this does not mean that there can’t be other kinds of judgments and consequences that follow, and one obvious consequence was that he lost the election. In light of all this, conservatives who double-downed on Moore made a huge mistake. And I don’t ultimately care that the Democrats are being hypocritical on this point; that doesn’t justify backing him when people shouldn’t. Moore and the Republicans who supported him deserved to lose that election, and hopefully it is a lesson that it is not worth sacrificing principle in order to just win politically.