Roy Moore, Sex, the Seventies, and the South
I had to wince at Roy Moore’s answers to Sean Hannity a couple of weeks back. Specifically, there was far too much talk about how the mothers of a seventeen- and an eighteen-year-old girl “liked” Roy and were pleased to have him courting their daughters–how he never asked a girl out without first consulting the lady of the house–followed by reiterated insistence that, no, he didn’t date teenagers when he was a thirty-two-year-old. So, Roy… these two particular moms wanted you to court their daughters, but you refused because of the age gap? And when you asked out a woman of twenty-eight, you first contacted her mother so as to ascertain if a date would be acceptable? Is that what you’re saying?
I so wanted to like this man… but thanks to contradiction and incoherence flowing from his mouth in a steady, unsavory mush, he has rendered himself impossible to believe and presently looks as guilty as Ganelon. If your account of how you did not do a deed is insulting to people with IQ’s higher than the temperature on Christmas Day, then you likely did the deed. (For instance, if you claim that you found a gun in a dumpster and decided to shoot a seal with it, but dropped the piece and then stumbled so that your toe pulled the trigger while pointing the muzzle further downward so as to create a ricochet… but I forgot that such things really happen in San Francisco.)
I concluded after the Hannity interview, then (with my head buried in my hands), that Moore must have done everything of which he stood accused. I was ready to fit the noose around his neck myself.
As the weeks have stumbled along, however, as awkwardly as an expatriate seal-hunting drug-dealer on a crowded pier, I began to reconsider. I did so largely on the basis of my own recollections of the Seventies, and of the ordeal of being a single Christian male during those suicidally hedonistic days. Here’s what I wish Judge Moore had said, and what I think he may have meant to say:
“Mr. Hannity, I’m sorry that you think it’s a perversion for a man of thirty-something years to ask a girl fresh out of high school for a date. In the rural South and out West, such practices were routine rather than unusual (let alone aberrant) before the Civil War; and in some parts of the South, things haven’t changed that much. But, yes, they’ve changed enough to have made my courting practices a little oddball back in the 1970’s. All the same, in my neck of the woods, asking out a girl ten or fifteen years your junior wouldn’t have been equated with pedophilia necessarily, as you seem determined to do–and your making that association really intimidates me. I’m really tempted to scuff up certain boundaries and hedge on the truth, except that I know I would be setting my foot in my own snare. You fast-talking Yankees, Mr. Hannity… you all have a way, you know, of making us Southerners feel like backward, inbred perverts, deviants, mutants, and retrogrades. You’re always so sure of yourselves, and we’re always Exhibit A for human failure and degeneracy. But I’m going to admit to the seventeen- and the eighteen-year olds–those were innocent adventures involving nothing more torrid than a light kiss at the end of the evening; and I’ll attempt to explain to you something further about the Seventies.
“You just about couldn’t find a girl to go on a date with back then who didn’t expect the evening to end up in bed. It didn’t even matter much if you met her at church. Since I had been unwise or unlucky enough to remain single into my thirties, most of the available women were divorcees, and they weren’t in any hurry to repeat what they regarded as a mistake: to get married again, that is to say. They held the institution of marriage at fault for their unhappiness, and not their own evaluation of marriageable material. They had decided that if they ever did marry a second time, they would do so only after giving the vehicle several test-drives. Unfortunately, this attitude not only tolerates behavior that a Christian is not supposed to practice; it also doesn’t yield the sort of confirmation that girls back then seemed to expect of it. So if I had engaged in the dating game as it was then being played by people of my age, I would have been exploiting women for my selfish sexual pleasure, albeit with their permission–and I would have been preparing them for another personal catastrophe following hard upon their previous one, since they were seeking to build a solid edifice upon a foundation of sand.
“Of course, there were better-educated women of approximately my years who had not rushed into marriage right out of high school, as we tend to do in the South; but few of them, frankly, clung even the rudiments of Christian belief that I found in struggling, confused divorcees. Indeed, it was the creed of feminism, learned in colleges and exported by these dazzling graduates into professional circles throughout the community, that probably induced many a single-parent secretary or nurse to follow the same lifestyle. For that was how the ‘smart’ people lived.
“In those circumstances, Mr. Hannity, I conceived the perhaps ill-advised notion of trying to date ‘unspoiled’ girls–young ladies who were neither exiting an unhappy marriage nor bound for a campus that would make them wise in the ways of contraception and abortion. I thought I was choosing the best option of the few available to me. Naturally, I made myself look a little ridiculous to certain people in the community who were already disposed to dislike me. Some of them, I’m sure, made me out to be a pervert and a predator, because I had left myself in a perfect position to receive shots like that. My ill-wishers in the law enforcement fraternity, especially, would start rumors about how they had to warn old Roy away from the young girls at the shopping mall. That’s what Jesus said would happen if you didn’t follow the way of the world. Him, the Son of God, they called a drunkard and a reveler, a companion of shady characters like tax-collectors. If the world would say that of Him, why would it say kinder things of me?”
Kind of a long speech for a Hannity segment, I know… but I wish Judge Moore had uttered something in the vicinity of my script. I myself didn’t actually court younger girls very often in my thirties–but I knew those who did. At a large Southern Baptist church which I visited frequently (since it was the only place in town to meet single women other than a bar, and marginally the more wholesome gathering of the two), we were classed in Sunday School rigidly according to age; and, yes, I observed more than one thirty-something man to forsake the abundant company of wounded divorcees and go hang out with the college girls. The age gap always froze me in my tracks when I contemplated the maneuver. I was afraid that a younger woman might be interested in me only and precisely because I was older: that is, she would assume that I was “experienced” in various and mysterious ways rather than that I was a bookish, retiring person who had hunkered down as the hurricane of the Sexual Revolution raged overhead. I’m sure certain people who wished me no particular good must have whispered various ingenious theories about how I had come to remain single at thirty-two. In fact, I was occasionally apprised of the speculation by people who “just thought I should know”.
Now, I quite obviously cannot attest that my situation and Roy Moore’s were closely parallel in the manner that I have just suggested. I hope they were. That would allow me to let the Judge off the hook for everything except some very clumsy prevarications in the throes of “Yankee-induced panic”. I can further imagine, without much of a stretch at all, a fourteen-year-old girl whose parents have split up being titillated by the prospect of drawing attention from an older, “more experienced” man. And I can imagine her creating fantasies that come to have the vividness of reality for her–perhaps to the point that she holds the older man responsible for not finding her more interesting and considers herself somehow violated by him. Look up a classic black-and-white film with Lawrence Olivier and Sarah Miles titled Term of Trial if you want to view a good example of just how such things can happen.
I do not believe that Moore had the sort of encounter with the fourteen-year-old which she has described, forty years later, as a middle-aged woman. It would make no sense. Having exercised gentlemanly restraint around the older teenagers (who had reached the legal age of consent), as all parties acknowledge who acknowledge anything at all–and this excludes Roy himself, at least during Hannity’s interview–why would the same man then strip naked before a child? In the scenario I have portrayed, Moore would most likely have an interest in younger women precisely because he was striving to preserve an abstemious Christian lifestyle before marriage. Had this not been his objective–believe me–he could have found dozens and dozens of playmates to party with in the pre-AIDS, hypersexualized Seventies. Yes, even down in the land of cotton, where there’s a steeple on every street corner.
A Southerner, a Christian, a white male… Roy Moore is everything our intelligentsia loves to hate. The only thing needed to fill out his profile, as far as the opinion-makers are concerned, is a trail of corpses indicating the activity of a serial killer. I do wish this man were not so verbally klutzy; and, as a Christian myself, I wish he would not retreat to Bible-thumping every time he senses that the jackals are closing in. Just because all martyrs suffer doesn’t mean that everyone who suffers is a martyr.
On the other hand, I have to reject the pronouncement of Gregg Jarrett (for whose views I have the utmost respect) that Moore is an antinomian renegade just because he has defied the Supreme Court. “Renegade” seems to me a pretty accurate descriptor for more than one of the nine worthies who sit on that august body. Then, too, Mr. Jarrett, you must understand that some of us in the South, even now, have not forgotten the hypocrisy of a central government that invaded its member states for exercising a constitutional freedom, all the while sanitizing its act by decrying the atrocity of slavery yet tolerating the institution in “loyal” states and freeing Southern slaves only to serve as cannon fodder, imprisoning publishers and legislators in states as remote as Illinois and New York for resisting Mr. Lincoln’s draft and his sanguinary policies, and carting away plunder while leaving once-prosperous cites in ashes. Roy Moore speaks to those memories, as sublimated as they have grown and as unhappily knotted as is his drawling tongue. The government in Washington observes what clauses of the Constitution it feels like reading on what days it finds itself in an observing mood.
We revere the Constitution in the South. The faraway, faceless government that claims to rule by constitutional authority? Not so much.
Roy Moore, if you are that caricature of a Christian gentleman that they make of you in the corridors of power…then God help us, and I only hope that forty years have taught you how to keep a belt buckled.