OK, let's get this straight. Roy Moore, the self-righteous, Bible-thumping Alabama Republican running for the U.S. Senate has been accused of having a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. Three other women said he pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his 30s. And who is Moore? A man who kept a gigantic monument of the Ten Commandments on his courthouse wall despite a judge's order to remove it, and who has been a life-long public pontificator on behalf of traditional sexual morality. A rabble-rousing evangelical Christian who has condemned homosexuality, said that "the transgenders don't have rights" and who has called the United States "a moral slum."
Is there no commandment about hypocrisy? If not, there should be.
Moore categorically denies the allegations, which were first reported by the Washington Post. And no one should be judged before all the evidence is in.
Yet we cannot be blamed if we feel we've seen this movie before. There has been no short supply, historically, of mendacious conservatives who sermonize about the way others live their lives, but fail to abide by the standards they so glibly set. David Vitter. Dennis Hastert. Larry Craig. Just last month, Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican who claimed to "stand for the dignity and value of all human life, both the born and the unborn" resigned from Congress after the local paper published text messages in which he urged his mistress to have an abortion. Honestly, you can't make this stuff up. Out of pure cynicism and political expediency, they deny truths about themselves and others, set rules (and pass laws!) that they personally can't or won't obey.
Does that make them worse than other run-of-the-mill sinners? In some ways, it does. Louis C.K., unacceptable as his behavior may have been, didn't inveigh sanctimoniously against masturbation. Quite the contrary.
As the Moore story developed, we were reminded on Facebook of a quote from the late Christopher Hitchens, for whom the puncturing of smug pieties was a lifelong commitment: "Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner, rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn old knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed upon...."
One of our colleagues on the editorial board begs to differ with all this. The "hypocrisy" argument, he has written, is "an exaggerated evil." He argues: "I'd want a legislator to vote for tough penalties against, say, kidnapping, even if he was incubating a plan to kidnap someone during the election recess." Plus, he notes, some public figures see their duty as reflecting their constituents' preferences, not their own — so maybe they're not required to walk the walk. At the end of the day, he says, it's not the hypocrisy that matters, but the underlying behavior that exposes it.
But the hypocrisy does matter. Fire-breathing preachers and members of Congress and other complacent moralizers ought to live the lives they insist others must live, or at the very least, be transparent about their inability to do so.
While it is true that few of us live up to standards every day of behavior we endorse in the abstract, most of us don't set the rules for others or make broad pronouncements about whose chosen lifestyles are acceptable or legal.
Given the number of people who spoke on the record about Moore in the Washington Post, this is not a story that will — or should — go away just because Moore has issued a categorical denial. Even in the absence of any criminal charges, he should make himself available for a detailed interview about the specific allegations. Did he know these women and girls? What was his interaction with them? If he is not willing to address or refute their recollections, he should get out of the race.