Will Alabama live down to its worst stereotype?

Welcome to Alabama Sign at visitor center on state line

Welcome to Alabama Sign at visitor center on state line (kvd design/BigStock)

Lynyrd Skynyrd famously sang, “Sweet home Alabama/Lord, I’m coming home to you.” But what will home look like tomorrow?

Will home be rooted in the 21st century, with its often repulsive past consigned to the history books? Will home be a place where businesses like Toyota Mazda, and perhaps even Amazon, feel comfortable planting their flags? Or will it be a national laughingstock, a rebooted stereotype about backwater bigotry and ignorance?

We’ll soon find out because elections have consequences.

Doug Jones, the Democratic senatorial candidate, said it best the other day: “This is about Alabama’s honor and doing what is right … This is our moment, our challenge, our opportunity (to show) that, together, we were on the right side of history … This is an election to tell the world who we are.”

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For Alabamans, the challenge — which should not be a challenge at all — is to conclude that electing a rare Democrat is wiser than hiring a notoriously accused pedophile who also believes that the constitutional amendments granting equal rights to blacks and voting rights to women should be scrapped.

Is barring Roy Moore from trawling the U.S. Senate really such a difficult decision? Apparently so. Because many Alabamans, in their blind hatred of anything with a “D” and anything that smacks of “media,” are fully prepared to rationalize anything. The Republican pollster Frank Luntz conducted a focus group of Moore voters last week, and they said the accusations from nine women are no big deal because it hasn’t been uncommon for pre-teen girls to get married. Heck, one voter said (I kid you not) there’s “a lotta mamas and daddies that would be thrilled that their 14-year-old was getting hit on by a district attorney.”

Defying uppity northerners is baked in their DNA, as we saw in the infamous ’60s when racists defied federal orders to integrate. The official state motto is “We Dare Defend Our Rights.” Whatever outsiders want, they feel compelled to want the opposite. An Alabama political columnist named Kyle Whitmire quips that “if The Washington Post ran a banner headline tomorrow saying ‘Antifreeze is poison, don’t drink it,’ a sizeable number of Alabamans would be dead tomorrow.”

Still, this apparently close Senate race — Moore even trails in some polls — is a hopeful sign that Alabamans may indeed realize the stakes involved. Donald Trump won the state by 28 points last year, and he has endorsed his fellow accused harasser, yet an unusually large share of the potential electorate appears to recognize that the race has become a referendum on Alabama’s identity. As a 71-year-old Republican woman, JoAnn Turner, told the press the other day, “I’m so tired of the publicity being so bad. It’s not who we are.”

It’s not who you are? Then prove it.

The business community in Alabama seems anxious to prove it. The business community has been trying to lure more Fortune 500 companies to Alabama, and it knows darn well that the odds are profoundly diminished if Moore becomes the state’s most public face. What company wants to invest in a perceived hotbed of hatred? With a junior senator who believes that America is evil because it allows gays to marry?

George Clark, president of Manufacture Alabama, an industry group, got it right when he told The Washington Post that the competition among states is fierce: “The margin of error is extremely thin. Everybody is trying to improve their workforce. Any negative you have — it’s like recruitment in football — it will be used against you.”

And a law student named Cliff Coleman got it right when he told The Washington Times that Moore “is kind of an embodiment of that stereotype. (If Moore wins), I think a lot of people outside the state, outside the South, will look and be like, ‘Oh, of course.’ ”

That’s what Richard Shelby, the state’s senior Republican senator, was talking about last weekend when he urged Alabama voters to reject Moore (by writing in a different Republican). In his words, “The state of Alabama deserves better.”

Perhaps. Unless it prefers to get what it deserves. Unless it prefers to caricature itself and triple down on its ignominious past.

How eerie it was in 2005 when novelist Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” wrote this in a letter to a friend: “I dread the advent of Roy Moore’s administration, but it’s coming sure as doomsday. What is wrong with us?”

The clock ticks today. They have only a few hours to make it right.

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