Moore and the South

Ray Moore’s past has been a rich in notoriety and brashness. Taken off the Alabama Supreme Court for willful ignorance of the law, he is now accused of groping women. For opponents of Moore they blithely assume, as they did with Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, that he will be destroyed politically. However, this is a misread of Alabama and southern history in general.

Certainly Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, who ruled the state for better than a decade, continually surprised onlookers with his resilience despite his blatant racism and brash style. But he was not the only one who defied the tastemakers and survived. A great example of this defiance of the voter came in Georgia in 1966 where a racist won the Democratic nomination for governor despite every established figure lining up against him.

Lester G. Maddox briefly won fame nationally by distributing ax handles to patrons of his chicken restaurant, the Pickrick. “Ax handles” Maddox urged his customers to use those pieces of lumber against blacks who dared to try and eat at his restaurant. Being in cosmopolitan Atlanta, it was assumed that the diminutive Maddox would prove a flop. Instead, it won him many adherents in areas outside Forsyth County.

Like Trump he defeated a council of notables –Ellis Arnall, an ex-governor, and a future president of the United States in Jimmy Carter. And just as with Trump, Maddox was discounted. As with Roy Moore, the local restaurateur was seen as an unredeemable scourge who should never be allowed to disgrace the office of governor. When he won in September 1966, Georgia establishment reacted in total against Maddox.

First the Atlanta Constitution, much like the Birmingham News did toward Moore, denounced Maddox as unthinkable. Believing his victory as a fluke, some Democrats, unable to back the Republican Bo Callaway, urged a write-in for Arnall. Charles Weltner, as congressman, made it clear that he would not run with Maddox’s ticket and resigned his renomination. Indignation aplenty, declarations of never would they support such a man proved practically endless. The new “Atlanta spirit” of suburban propriety would not be sullied by the likes of Lester G. Maddox.

But in the end it was. Maddox — although he did not win the popular vote, the write-ins for Arnall denied the office to Callaway. Like Doug Jones, some Democrats, however sensible, refused to back good ole Bo. So the task fell to the Georgia legislature, who promptly noted the despised Maddox to the governorship.

This is the situation the GOP finds itself in, trying election tricks to find another alternative. Unable to back Jones, they found other methods — even considering postponing the election. As with Democrats in Georgia, they had grown so corrupt and grimy that even the prospect of putting an ignoramus in office balked at supporting “the other party.” Mitch McConnell, who resembles many of Georgia’s political heavyweights circa 1966, prefers his cut of the bounty to any assertion of moral responsibility.