Where I Agree With Mo Brooks

In a way, I sympathize with Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama. I understand how incredibly valuable it is to have a seat in the U.S. Senate, and I wouldn’t want to concede one to the Republicans, especially in a dark blue state. The issue is amplified by the fact that the Republicans currently enjoy a narrow 52-48 majority, and we should keep in mind also that John McCain is very ill and that Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi has missed time recently because of poor health. The Republicans want to pass a tax bill through the Senate that is dependent on them having fifty seats, at a minimum, and losing the Alabama seat would get them down to a very uneasy fifty-one. Besides these factors, though, I can understand where Brooks is coming from when he says this:

“America faces huge challenges that are vastly more important than contested sexual allegations from four decades ago,” Brooks said in a text message to AL.com. “Who will vote in America’s best interests on Supreme Court justices, deficit and debt, economic growth, border security, national defense, and the like? Socialist Democrat Doug Jones will vote wrong. Roy Moore will vote right. Hence, I will vote for Roy Moore.”

I could say all the same things about Sen. Bob Menendez who is currently on trial in New Jersey for corruption. He may well get off, or at least get a mistrial based on a hung jury, but if he were to be convicted and forced to resign from the Senate, I’m sure the person Gov. Chris Christie chose to replace him would “vote wrong” from my perspective on a whole lot more things than Menendez would.

Personally, though, I’d prefer to see Menendez convicted because I think what he’s done is every bit as wrong as what Virginia governor Bob McDonnell did, and I think the Supreme Court was wrong to overturn McDonnell’s conviction. Still, I’m impure or partisan enough to hope that, were Menendez found guilty, it would be incoming Democratic governor Phil Murphy who would appoint a replacement for Menendez. I definitely understand the sentiment in favor of finding some way to save the Alabama seat for the Republicans.

Where I differ with Mo Brooks is, first, that I want Menendez held accountable for his actions and I’m upset that the Supreme Court’s leniency in the McDonnell case might prevent that from happening. In other words, my sense of right or wrong isn’t compromised by any sense that I need to be a team player.

Secondly, while I might want to avoid the worst consequences of having a bad senator in the Democratic Party, I believe the party and the country are better off in the long run without Menendez even if his replacement would potentially “vote wrong” or even prevent the Democrats from winning a majority.

Thirdly, in the end, I’m more willing to take the worst consequences than I am to tolerate abhorrent behavior. And I’m willing to stand on those principles even in a contested case where the worst allegations are about a misuse of office rather than sexual assaults against teenage girls.

I could definitely make an argument that preventing a horrible tax bill is more important than the fate of a single senator. I could say that we need a “good vote” on climate change or to save our health care system or on judicial nominations. But I’m not willing to make those arguments because we need to put good governance first, and we can’t overlook criminal behavior just because we think it’s advantageous to our other political interests.

To be honest, I think I’m being very generous here, because I’m making an equivalency that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Nothing Menendez has done is remotely comparable to what Roy Moore is convincingly accused of having done. But that’s kind of the point. I don’t need the crime to be cruel and vicious and aimed at children to feel compelled to condemn it and call for accountability.

So, my sympathy for Mo Brooks is actually quite limited. I agree that the ways in which our policies are decided are of great importance. I’m highly vested in how these things turn out. But the idea that I’d support someone who harms children just so I could have a better chance of prevailing in the political realm isn’t anything I can or will countenance.

Mo Brooks makes a different calculation, and I think we’re all entitled to judge him negatively for it.

He’s a terrible human being.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.