Alabama, we warmly welcome you back to the United States of America. All is forgiven, and on a personal note, I want to thank you for rewarding my optimism, which these days is mostly a lifestyle choice.
True, you almost rejected a civil rights hero, Doug Jones, in the special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ old seat in the U.S. Senate. And you almost elected Roy Moore, an alleged molester of teenagers who claims we were better off before the Civil War. But as President Donald Trump admitted Tuesday night, a win is a win.
Though the outcome was closer than it should have been, I especially want to thank all of those Republicans who did the right thing instead of making the usual short-term partisan calculation.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, your late-breaking qualms made a difference. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, in saying that the National Republican Senatorial Committee would never endorse Moore, you stood apart from the crowd when the outcome was far from assured.
To all of those African American voters who despite shameful voter suppression turned out in greater numbers than for Barack Obama in 2012, the GOP should be thanking you, too. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t have to try to find a way to oust a democratically elected potential criminal without setting off another of the civil wars for which some, but not all, of his base is so nostalgic.
In victory, Jones was as humble as Moore was ungracious. “I’ve been waiting all my life,’’ the Democrat said, “and now I don’t know what the hell to say.”
Sure he did: He knew to thank his mama and his wife, and he welcomed all of Alabama to the victory party: “This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which zip code, is going to get a fair shake.”
When Jones quoted Martin Luther King, it was possible to believe that maybe the moral arc of the universe does bend towards justice.
But here’s the question that remains: Are we ever going to keep the abortion issue from perverting our politics?
The only reason this race was a nail-biter is that so many Republicans who had no use for the judge personally feel it their moral duty to vote no matter what for the candidate who opposes abortion rights. That’s admirable in its intent, but often disastrous in all the free passes it hands out.
It’s also a terribly narrow view of all that being pro-life means: That’s such an all-encompassing world view, in opposition to violence in all its forms and in support of humans everywhere and at all times, not to mention care for animals and for our poor abused planet, that I’m not sure anyone but Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama live up to it perfectly.
Yet over the decades since Roe v. Wade was decided, that’s how morality has been defined for much of the country. Once that was explained to Trump, for one, he used it to lock in those who care deeply about that issue — to the point that he gets to do and say anything else he likes.
Democrats are still going to have to nominate some pro-life, anti-abortion moderates in states where the only other way they’ll ever eke out a win might be against, I don’t know, the kind of cartoon character whose wife would brag that she and the mister can’t be anti-Semites because “one of our attorneys is a Jew.”
But again and again, Democrats instead show they’d rather lose than expand the tent by a single millimeter on that issue. And in an uncomfortable echo of the pass feminists gave Bill Clinton for his predations, feminism so narrowly defined that it begins and ends with abortion rights lets some so-called champions of women get away with abusing with them.
Moore’s defeat thankfully disproved the theory that with Al Franken out, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick put it, “unilateral disarmament” over allegations of sexual harassment “is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve.”
Both feminism and the pro-life philosophy are bigger than their respective lobbies have trained us to believe. And in the hopeful spirit of one night on which one red red state did see the bigger picture, maybe we’ll still come to see that.
This column originally appeared in USA Today.