Dispatches from Wolf Country — Robert E. Lee and Roy Moore

We're here of course because Alabama has had kind of a dicey relationship with politics in recent decades.

Moore and the Horse He rode to the polls on…New American Journal, 8-17-17

 Let them ask What would Lee do?

Kind of a dicey relationship with politics

Don’t treat Alabama folks like they’re stupid!

“Wondering what it’s coming to and how it got this far”–Guy Clark, Texas 1947

 

We’re here of course because Alabama has had kind of a dicey relationship with politics in recent decades. Luther Strange was appointed to the Senate to fill Jeff Sessions seat; Sessions having been rejected by the Senate for an appointment to the Federal Bench in the 1986, when Ronald Reagan attempted to appoint him to the District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. The parade of witnesses against included attorneys who had worked for him, both black and white when he served as the US Attorney for the Southern District. It was obvious to the Senators on the Judicial Committee that there were problems with Sessions and Civil Rights Law, and the Republican Controlled panel voted 10-8 to reject his nomination.

Sessions served as the Attorney General of Alabama prior to his nomination and successful campaign for the Senate. Elected in 1996. he had no trouble winning re-election each year, up to 2014. When Sessions was nominated for Attorney General, he resigned and the then Governor Robert Bentley appointed Luther Strange to replace Sessions.  Bentley was neck deep in an impeachment investigation and proceedings for conducting an affair with an aide which involved both appointment to State Jobs and travel and lodging at the government’s expense. The lead agency on the criminal investigation coordinating with the State House and Senate was…Luther Strange.

In what seemed like an attempt to disrupt the investigation into his affair and related charges, Bentley offered the Senate seat to Strange, who happily took it and went off to Washington proving to be a trustworthy vote and voice for Mitch McConnell in the Senate Republican. If Bentley was trying to be Machiavellian, he wasn’t very good at it, and ended up resigning after conviction on the criminal charges rather than face impeachment. Now, the people of Alabama are very politically astute and do not like to be treated as if they were stupid. And, they had trouble figuring out why the governor decided to cheat on his wife with an aide and have them pick up the tab.

This put Strange in a weak position. Another mainstream conservative, Mo Brooks, a Congressman ran against Strange in the primary for the special election this week. In effect, he took enough votes away from Strange that the far-right candidate, a throwback to a distant past in the south such as to make Sessions seem like Bobby Kennedy by comparison, was able to force a runoff, and in the two person final contest, the racist, secessionist, extreme Evangelical Christian, Roy Moore, won.

The Democrats of course just kept chugging along, nominating a former US Attorney, Doug Jones, as their candidate in the Special. Jones is a Conservative Democrat, but in the weird language and rhetoric of Alabama politics, he’s been condemned as a tool for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer. He does have successful convictions in a number of high profile cases involving the Ku Klux Klan including of the bombers in the two bombers in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963 — an obvious case of justice denied but still a blast of free air and justice in Birmingham. He also led the Alabama-USDOJ task force that coordinated the pursuit and capture of the Atlanta Olympic Bomber suspect and bomber of the New Women All Women Health Center in Birmingham in 1998, fighting to have the suspect, Eric Rudolph tried in Alabama first before extradition to Georgia for trial for the Olympics and other bits of right wind domestic terrorism in that state. After the election George W. Bush, he returned to private life, taking on a variety of cases with civil rights and environmental issues.

Now Moore is a troubled candidate. He was removed twice for violating Federal Law established by the Supreme Court on constitutional issues including Separation of Church and State and Equal Protection when as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he ordered Justices of the Peace and County Clerks to not allow Gay and Lesbian couples to marry. At a speech following his nomination, he pulled a pistol out of his pocket waiving it around proclaiming his loyalty to the 2nd Amendment. At a campaign meeting, the lone black attendee asked about the Trump demand to make America Great Again, and he said that basically it was when families were more together, back when there was slavery. Think about the ignorance of history and lack of critical thinking involved in that sort of statement.

However, no one except possibly some people who remembered him being barred from the Gadsden Mall for bothering the teenage clerks when he was a prosecutor saw the charges of child molestation, and related issues coming at him. That was a surprise.

Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republican establishment opposed him long before these charges came out. McConnell was a relatively junior Senator when he led the Ethics Committee in the Robert Packwood case which resulted in Packwood, another Republicans, expulsion from the Senate. Combined with the lunacy of Moore’s judicial opinions and his general fanaticism, McConnell sees him less as a good Republican and more as a nutcase who could over trump Trump when craziness is seen as a stupid solution to a legislative problem.

Alabama Republican politics might be a good preparation for the Senate in one case. There have been some rather high visibility complaints recently about Senators and congressmen and there are more to come; some analysts have speculated that these folks don’t really work for anyone and everyone wants something from them and will often do anything to get it. They develop the feeling that they are bullet proof and can get away with whatever they want to, rationalizing it as not being that bad. Well, if you reach a certain level in the Alabama Republican party, you can expect similar treatment. Moore has reciprocated, calling for McConnell’s removal from the Majority Leader’s chair.

Lee and Traveller, 1862 –Wikipedia Commons

Now, I have enough Alabamian friends to know that telling them what to do, especially with my Yankee Jesuit education and Radical Liberal Democrat Party affiliation, is a good way of having them do the other thing. And, I want them to do the right thing as they vote; a Senate seat is not a hunk of pastrami, which is of course a Yankee-Jewish-Foreigner type of meat.

However, I would ask them to take a few minutes, and re-read some of the great writing that has been done about Robert E. Lee. If you read my stuff, you’re may remember my column on August 17 where I made up my mind about monuments in the south based on a simple question: What would Lee do? 

As a soldier and amateur philosopher and sometimes historian, I have spent more time than I might have thinking about Robert E. Lee. I understand the new school of thought that Lee was a traitor; I just don’t completely agree with it. The United States was still struggling to become itself, and that struggle continues today. The issue of which is most important seems settled today; but from the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, through the Constitutional Convention and the early decades of the Nation, the struggle between states rights and federal prerogative was a fairly constant occurrence.

Lee’s Amnesty Oath, 10-20-1865, National Archives

Lee had served the nation faithfully while in the Army; he was considered the most outstanding officer by the soldiers who served with him, his subordinate officers, his peers, his superiors. Allowed a command role as Albert Sydney Johnson’s deputy with the 2nd Cavalry fighting the Comanche in Texas, he had added to his reputation for being brave, smart, honorable and diplomatic. The ordered return to Washington along with other Virginian officers tore at his heart. His sense of honor was troubled; he had to make a decision between his oath of office and the ties of family, friendship and heritage to Virginia. He resigned his commission, and rose to command the Army of Northern Virginia through demonstrated leadership, knowledge, common sense and honor.

That sense of honor and probity are why I recommend that the people of Alabama take a few minutes and reflect on the greatest and yet very humble and gentlemanly soldier who fought for the Confederacy. Let them ask,  as I did when thinking through the issue of Confederate monuments,  what would Lee do?

On the sexual charges, Lee would probably believe the women. A gentleman in his era would never doubt the word of a woman.  He certainly would regard Moore’s threats and blustering and the threats that Moore’s fans have delivered to these women and their families as disgraceful. As a gentleman, Lee would expect Moore, seeking to be a Senator to comport himself accordingly. He’d find that Moore had enough ethical issues here to warrant a vote for the other guy.

But, Lee would also respond to Moore’s record as a prosecutor and a judge at all levels in the Alabama legal system. Lee was the one of the first Confederate Generals to petition for amnesty, and his petition was vigorously supported by Generals Grant, Sherman and Sheridan among others. He signed the Amnesty Oath required on October 2, 1865, the day that he was inaugurated as the President of Washington College, now Washington and Lee in Lexington, Virginia.

Lee sent an application to Grant and wrote to President Johnson on June 13, 1865: “Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April ’61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Va. 9 April ’65.”

However, he was never pardoned and the amnesty oath was lost for over 100 years. It appears that Secretary Steward kept it as a souvenir when it got to Washington. In 1975, Congress posthumously restored his citizenship and at the signing ceremony, President Ford said that

General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.

It is my belief that Lee would look at Moore’s record of refusing to follow the constitution, of praising the pre-Civil War era as the last time the US was great, and his antics with the pistol, the short brimmed cowboy hat, and his courtship of Donald Trump as ungentlemanly at best and as possibly treasonous. I can not envision that this man, this greatest of the Southern heroes, would want Moore in his living room, let alone representing the Great State of Alabama in the Senate.

So, Lee would either write in someone else’s name or, and probably more likely, he’d vote for the Democrat. If you honor Robert E. Lee, you probably should to.

And to again clarify my point of view on Alabama, I do really like the place and the people. I may not agree with their politics and their points of view on a lot of things, but I’ve spent enough time there as a stranger and been treated so well that I think they deserve a lot better than the fools they’ve had represent them. They need some Fifth Monarchy Men in their religious thinking, but that’s for another time.

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