I Didn’t Want to Care About Doug Jones

I made a big mistake. I decided to watch the speech that Doug Jones gave on December 5th. It was a mistake because it made me admire the man, and that sets me up to be disappointed tonight if he doesn’t win the special election for Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

I’ll be honest, the election of Donald Trump caused post-traumatic stress disorder, which isn’t an ideal condition for a political prognosticator. One way of protecting myself is to not allow myself to get my hopes up, especially in a case where the prospects for victory have never been particularly strong. The simpler and safer course is to assume defeat and stand ready to be pleasantly surprised.

One advantage I’ve had in this case is that it simply isn’t possible to tell who will win based on the polls. Of course, the polls said Clinton would win and she didn’t, so I wouldn’t trust even a modest polling lead. But lacking any lead at all, it’s not difficult or unjustified to take an agnostic view of the likely result tonight.

What I didn’t want to do is to get emotionally invested in this election. But watching Doug Jones’s December 5th speech created a problem for me. He seems to combine some of the better characteristics of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and at the same time to lack some of their flaws. Overall, he’s more progressive than either of them. He connects with an audience a little better than Carter, and he brings more moral authority than Clinton ever could. He has a worldview that brings an historic scope to his message. He knows well what’s been holding Alabama back, that they missed out on the New South entirely. He’s prosecuted Klansmen, including the men who carried out the Klan’s most notorious crime. He’s prosecuted child molesters. He may not have quite the policy chops of Carter and Clinton, but he’s fluent and knowledgeable about Alabama’s emerging tech, health, and automotive industries.

I had been thinking about Jones more for what he can accomplish for the resistance against Trump’s agenda. With his vote in the Senate, it may be possible to block things that would have otherwise passed. His election would serve as a rebuke to Trump and further undermine his power and sway. Simply by keeping Roy Moore out of the Senate, he would do everyone a service, including the Republican leadership there that doesn’t really deserve the favor. His election would give hope to women and minorities and the LGBT community, and everyone else who has suffered or would suffer under the leadership of people like Roy Moore. All of these were reasons to hope that Jones would win. But he’s added another for me, which is that I think he has a real upside as a leader in his own right. He’s still raw as a politician, which should be expected. Even Barack Obama was a little uneven early on during his first presidential run. But Jones shows tremendous potential which can only be fulfilled if he wins tonight and has a chance to grow.

So, now I am kind of screwed. I anticipated going into tonight with low expectations and with the sense that all the downside would come from Moore’s victory and his heightened role in our national politics. As bad as that would be, it wouldn’t really be all that different from having Luther Strange in the Senate. I was prepared for that kind of ugliness, as it’s what I’ve come to expect since last November.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel like if Doug Jones loses, we’re going to miss out on a chance to see a real leader emerge who could change things for the better in the Democratic Party, in the Deep South, and for the nation as a whole.

Despite everything, I’m now emotionally invested, which is precisely what I didn’t want to be.

Martin Longman

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