Without nearly enough fanfare, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made history this week with a scant four words: "I believe the women."
All across America, forks dropped, glasses shattered and knees wobbled as women turned to each other in astonishment. Wait. What? Did he say what I think he said?
Suddenly, McConnell, whose characteristic solemnity inspires envy in statues, suddenly became irresistibly magnetic. Admit it: You wanted to hug him.
The Senate leader was responding to a reporter's question about the alleged sexual misconduct of Roy Moore, the erstwhile "Ten Commandments" judge and aspiring U.S. senator from Alabama. Moore, as you surely know, has been accused of sexual misconduct by five women who claim that he groped, attempted to rape or otherwise made overtures when they were teens and he was in his 30s in the 1970s.
McConnell - who fought Moore's candidacy even before the accusations - has now joined several other Republicans in urging Moore to step aside before Alabama's Dec. 12 special election, saying he is unfit to serve. Anyone who knows Moore will tell you that he won't quit, while skeptics and loyalists shrug at the charges, saying they're "politically motivated." Shocking. As Bill Clinton can attest, ugly things tend to surface when people aspire to high places. Sadly, they're often also true things, though it seems these days that one's moral compass follows the needle of political affiliation.
This is why McConnell's words were so stunning. Rather than try to ensure that Republicans keep the seat, he opted to do the right thing. It's a shame we have to be surprised when this happens, but rare is the politician who is also a statesman.
In fairness, one observes that the man Moore allegedly was in those days may not be the same man today. As a society, we tend to believe that people can change and be forgiven for past transgressions, especially if they've led exemplary lives in the interim. But forgiveness first requires that one confess and repent -- and Moore has done neither.
His denial and steadfast refusal to step aside may be viewed in one of two ways. Either he's innocent, or he's confident that his supporters don't care if he is guilty. As in: That was a long time ago and that's not the Roy Moore we know. Both scenarios could be true, though having lived in Alabama, I lean toward the latter scenario. In a state where Moore achieved hero status in some quarters for refusing a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from his court building -- and where good ol' boys look out for each other -- it's much easier to blame the media's "fake news" for Moore's troubles than to be bedeviled by women with their cursed agendas.
Moore is threatening to sue The Washington Post, which broke the story after a month-long investigation that included corroborating interviews with at least 30 people. On Monday, a fifth woman, Beverly Young Nelson, came forward with a detailed accusation of how Moore attempted to rape her in his car when she was 16. She claims Moore choked her and dumped her, crying, onto the pavement. He allegedly ordered her to keep quiet since no one would believe "just a child."
Moore refutes ever knowing Nelson, though this seems demonstrably false. Nelson produced her 1977 high school yearbook featuring an inscription by Moore. Apparently smitten by his inner muse, he wrote: "To a sweeter, more beautiful girl, I could not say Merry Christmas." Could you maybe have said, "Congratulations and best of luck in the future"?
Moore's pearls seem rather personal for someone unremembered. Then again, would-be poets in the South, especially those who favor themselves "ladies' men," have been known to indulge in inflated flattery. Had Moore been elderly at the time, one might have thought him merely dotty -- a harmless hybrid of Don Juan and Don Quixote, tilting at maidens in a trance of romantic chivalry.
But Moore wasn't elderly or dotty. And five women who didn't know each other have shared similarly sickening memories. The Post stands by its exhaustively researched story. And anyone with common sense stands next to McConnell, whose words must have fallen like musical notes on the ears of the silenced.
We'll never know with certainty what happened some 40 years ago. But in the future, McConnell's stand surely will make a difference for other women who fear they will not be believed in similar circumstances. In the meantime, here's an inscription for Moore's yearbook: I have two words for you, and they're not Merry Christmas.