The real problem with judging Judge Roy Moore

Few societies have gone through as wrenching changes in behavior and social norms in the past forty years as America has.  We can scarcely recognize the social mores and attitudes then from today's perspective.  But as L.P. Hartley put it, "[t] he past is a foreign country.  They do things differently there."

And if the changes over time are confusing enough, try understanding the regional variations.  Roy Moore was from Etowah County in northeast Alabama, on the southwestern edge of Appalachia.  His lower-class family lived way out of town and finally got indoor plumbing his last year of high school.  Although he was elected student body president and made straight As, he was so poor that he couldn't afford to rent a school locker.  He had to carry all his school books around all the time.  He wouldn't have had the money to take girls out.

After high school, he went to a still all male West Point.  Ordinary dating was almost a geographical impossibility without the Academy busing in girls, so cadets were legendary for being hopelessly inept dates.  And if they hadn't learned how to be a good date in high school, they weren't likely to learn much at the academy.

Moore served in Vietnam, and once his five-year commitment to serve in the Army was up, he resigned and went to the University of Alabama Law School.  After graduating, he became an assistant attorney general for Etowah County in 1977.  For the first time in his life, Roy Moore had a small nest egg from his military service, a decent salary, and a respectable position in Etowah County.

But he was still a lower-class boy living in higher circles.  What he did not have were social connections.  All the girls he knew in high school were long since married off.  And he had no one to introduce him around town.  He was now in a level of society foreign to him and all the more confusing because it was in his own home town.  He hadn't the sophistication to approach the women in his new social circle.  So he hit on teenagers.  Theodore Dreiser would have understood his predicament perfectly.

Two of the mothers of the allegedly abused women thought their 16-year-old daughter was too young for Moore.  Two other mothers' responses were quite revealing.  One of them told her daughter, "I'd say you were the luckiest girl in the world."  The other mother pronounced Moore "husband material."  As "a hometown boy made good," as one of the then teenage girls the Washington Post quoted put it, Moore had a good hand to play.  He simply didn't know how to play it.

So he did what men in that position have done for years.  He went trolling, hoping to run into someone, and learning along the way.  And in the late '70s and early '80s, however it might offend today's feminist sensibilities, there was nothing rare about men in their 20s and 30s taking out teenagers in small towns in the South.  It indeed was quite common, partly because the region had been so economically depressed for so long that one had to be older to have enough money and a car to date seriously in the first place.

And shocking though it may be to today's feminists, teenage girls in that day and age were famous for lying about their age to get into bars, get served, a number of reasons, including dating older men.  Remember the 13-year-old, played by Bijou Phillips, climbing into the local James Dean's yellow deuce coupe in American Graffiti in 1962?  And there is quite a market for fake IDs to do just that to the present day.

The most potentially serious of the alleged offenses involved Leigh Corfman, who was 14 and "troubled" at the time.  At the court hearing she and her mother were awaiting when Moore met her, her serious disciplinary problems were to result in the Court's rare movement of her custody from her mother to her father, less than two weeks later.

"At some point she told him she was 14," according to The Washington Post's elastic phrasing of her allegation, but she went along willingly for a second date.  "I was kind of giddy, excited, you know? An older guy, you know?"  One of the teenagers the Post quoted explained why: "Moore 'had this godlike, almost deity status."

So what do these allegations really add up to?  Nothing more or less than that the man Corfman herself called "charming and smiley" was really clumsy with women.  Corfman was "expecting candlelight and roses."  On her second date, she alleges she found herself on blankets on the floor of a gloomy house on an unpaved road, miles out of town, and an older man she admired tried to make her stimulate him "over his underpants."  When she objected, he took her home.

No credible woman who has spoken out on Roy Moore yet has claimed he tried to force himself on her when she objected.  And to accept Corfman's allegation, given her account, we have to assume that all contact between Moore and Corfman took place in the less than two weeks before the Court ordered her custody switched to her father.

Moore had an understandably delayed learning curve.  The teenage years give most of us the time to shake out some bad dating behavior.  And if we're honest with ourselves, most of us can remember some unfortunate experiences we hope others have forgotten.  But Moore thought he had to forage opportunistically, and rough wooing from a man in his 30s left problems young women were not so ready to overlook.  There is nothing abnormal or surprising here.

The Washington Post's lead reporter breaking these claims against Moore is a big-city Alabamian with a classic leftist résumé, from Pacifica to the World Bank and Columbia Journalism School, as well as a period as a "community organizer."  She is a fine reporter, but culturally, Etowah Country, 40 years ago, is as foreign to her experience as it might be to Barack Obama.

The problem may be not what is reflected so much as it is with the mirror itself.

Autres temps, autre moeurs...and a terrible price for forgetting, for everyone.