Judge Roy Moore Speaks!
A Christian right presidential run creaks a half-inch forward.
Chatterbox yesterday had the honor and privilege to interview Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama chief justice who got fired for refusing to remove a marble Decalogue from his courtroom. Moore's firing was entirely just, given his defiance of a federal court ruling undergirded by a half-century of Supreme Court decisions and the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. Installing Moore's brand of religious fanaticism in the Oval Office would be ruinous to the country and dangerous to the world. But this is no time to dwell on such trivialities. What's important is that Moore is thinking of running for president on a third-party ticket. He is a charismatic figure who has the potential to siphon a great many Christian right votes away from the pitiful Sodomites now occupying the White House. George W. Bush talks a good game, but can he even name all Ten Commandments? (Too bad the president is a teetotaler. This would be a great bar bet.)
It's time for Democrats to stop shaking their fists at Ralph Nader and to start flattering and cajoling Moore. They need this man to run for president. Bill Clinton should encourage Moore in one of his famous late-night phone calls. Barbra Streisand should offer to sing "Evergreen" at Moore's church. Bob Shrum, Kerry's political consultant, should pledge to cut Moore's commercials free of charge, assuming the Federal Election Commission will allow it. Wealthy Kerry supporters should pool their money to buy Moore a Tyndale Bible. Or is that bribery? All right then, how about a box of Godiva chocolates, with a note attached: "You keep giving 'em hell!—G. Soros." Democratic members of Congress should jostle one another over who will get to carry Moore's bags during his next visit to Washington. Let the love-bombing begin!
Chatterbox sees a definite progression in Moore's statements about whether he'll run. In the March 1 Weekly Standard, a story headlined, "No Moore in 2004" reported, "Moore emphatically denies that he will challenge Bush this year, 'period.' " Chatterbox thought he smelled a rat in the Weekly Standard's failure to provide a direct quote. But the article's author, Katherine Mangu-Ward, yesterday provided Chatterbox with Moore's precise quote:
Q: So you are not going to challenge Bush this year?
A: No. I'm working on getting my [chief justice] position back, and that is consuming my time now, this year. But in the long term, I think it is improper to limit your future.
The Weekly Standard told the truth. Moore really did say he wasn't going to run. Chatterbox extends an apology to Ms. Mangu-Ward.
But our story doesn't end there. On March 7, Moore said this to David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times:
Q: Some people have speculated that you might run for office this year for the Constitution Party, a conservative group.
A: I don't rule out anything. But I have no plans to do that at this time.
Same person. Much more equivocal answer.
Three days later, Moore said this to Chatterbox:
Q: Judge Moore, you've been traveling the country giving a lot of speeches under the auspices of the Constitution Party, and you've created a lot of speculation that you are planning to run for president on a third party ticket. Are you going to run for president?
A: Well, first, I have not been speaking under the auspices of the Constitution Party. I have spoken to several Constitution Party events, but I've also spoken to colleges and churches and other groups across the country because I have been speaking about the First Amendment acknowledgment of God in our country. And I have no plans at this time to run. That could change [italics Chatterbox's]. But I have made no plans to run for any office right now.
Chatterbox pointed out that the deadline for running on the Constitution Party ticket is June 23 (when the party opens its four-day national convention in Valley Forge, Pa.). Would he make a decision before then?
Well, again, I have no decision to make if I'm not planning to run. I just, you know, haven't got plans to run right now [italics Chatterbox's]. And if I do make a decision [to run] I guess it would be before November—er, June 23.
What's the timetable for Moore's legal appeal to win back his position as chief justice in Alabama? Moore has said he wants to pursue that before he does anything else. How long will it take?
I think that within, I would say, two to three weeks if not this Friday—I mean, we expected the ruling already, but there is some delay for some reason that I don't know—but we expect that decision within two to three weeks. And then of course we also would have an appeal to the United States Supreme Court should we desire to take it [italics Chatterbox's].
Note that Moore didn't say he'll file an appeal to the Supreme Court if he loses at the appellate level (as of course he will). He says he'll file an appeal if he feels like it. The distinction is important because it's pretty unlikely the Supreme Court would move quickly enough to leave Moore time to run for president after it declined to take the case or ruled against him—its only two conceivable options. The Supreme Court almost never moves very quickly. And it's hard to imagine the Republican-majority court would make an exception in order to allow Moore time to launch a third-party run that threatened Bush, the very guy the court went through so much trouble to send to the White House in 2000. Maybe Moore is starting to understand the Supremes have the motive and the means to play him for a sucker.
Does Moore recognize that his third-party candidacy for president might install John Kerry in the White House?
Well, I understand that scenario. ... I wouldn't necessarily enter a race to throw a race one way or the other. I think you run a race to win the race, and not just to affect an outcome, because the outcome is in God's hands, not in man's.
Chatterbox took Moore's temperature on the Bush administration, making sure to remind him, Iago-like, that President Bush just appointed to the 11th circuit former Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, the guy who fired him.
Well, again, I do think there are problems there. I think that giving a judgeship to a man that follows blindly an order of a district judge that violates his oath and enters an unlawful order is a problem. And of course I don't favor that. And I think it's detrimental to the position of Christians in this country to do so.
Any other beefs with Bush's policies? Moore was unwilling to go further. When pressed, he said, "I'm sure I'd have the same differences with the Kerry administration were Kerry president." This created an opportunity to probe whether Moore saw a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the GOP. A conviction that the two major political parties are fundamentally indistinguishable—Tweedledum and Tweedledee—is the crucial prerequisite to launching a third-party candidacy.
I would say that there's not much difference these days between those who run under one party or another because they're all after seeking power. Power's not what the Constitution was about. The Constitution was about a limitation on power. It was about the fact that the judiciary should stick to interpreting the law, not making it.
These coals are starting to radiate a little warmth. Bring on the bellows!
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.