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STEINBERG: Tuck away the Roy Moore lesson — no costumes

U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore rides a horse to vote in Alabama's special election to fill a U.S. Senate seat. Moore lost. | Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Roy Moore lost Alabama’s special senate race a little over a week ago, but he already seems like ancient history, a sepia figure out of a tin-type: the cowboy-hat-wearing, hang-the-Ten-Commandments-high judge, praised by a supporter introducing him at a campaign rally for refusing to have sex with child prostitutes in a Vietnam brothel.

Because that’s the gold standard now.

Before we let Moore ride off in to the sunset … where do these guys go? I picture some Failed Republican Candidate Saloon, with Alan Keyes playing honky tonk piano and Al Salvi behind the bar.


As Moore goes wherever he’s bound — back to the 19th century from whence he came, perhaps — I’d like to make an observation that might have flown past people in the general hoopla that met his defeat.

You might have missed the gales of ridicule Moore faced for riding his horse Sassy to the polls. (Is Alabama the frontier? I don’t think of the state as being built on horsemanship. I guess Moore couldn’t go to the polls riding piggyback on the shoulders of a slave. Maybe an aide talked him out of it.)

He held the reins wrong — in both hands. The horse looked like it hated him. His legs stuck out awkwardly. The Internet and late-night television echoed with ridicule.

“Can we vote for the horse?” Jimmy Fallon asked.

There is a lesson here. Not for Moore — he’ll never run again, please God. But Illinois is a state full of politicians, and there is a clear, unambiguous message here:

No costumes.

Bruce Rauner never seems so starkly a callous multi-millionaire with nine homes and a lip-sneering contempt for working people than when he’s wearing his brand new Carhartt jacket and droppin’ his g’s. Say what you will about J.B. Pritzker, you never see a commercial where he crawls out from under a sink wearing OshKosh bib overalls, wipes his hands on an oily rag and declares, “Hi, I’m J.B. Pritzker and when I’m not fixing plumbing around the house I’m fixing problems in the state of Illinois…”

No costumes. No tableaus. No Michael Dukakis wearing a grin, a tightly-knotted necktie and an enormous helmet poking out an M1 Abrams tank, the image that helped sink him in 1988. The fact that Dukakis was a vet, a volunteer, who served in Korea in the U.S. Army, meant nothing.

We mustn’t forget Nixon on the Beach. Heartbreaking. I hated Nixon when he was in office, with the pure hatred that only a child can feel. But in the decades afterward, I came to feel, well, almost affection for the man. He was so awkward it was almost sweet, and never so awkward as when, in 1972, his handlers decided to try to humanize him by putting him on the beach at his beloved San Clemente. It worked so well for the Kennedys.

It didn’t work for Nixon, in his crisp slacks and black dress shoes.

He won anyway. But as a general rule, be who you are. Yes, returning to Roy Moore, that might not work if who you are is a creep haunting shopping malls. And say what you will for Rauner’s sham, Illinois fell for it. (Well, I didn’t fall for it. I voted for Pat Quinn, who never wore costumes, to my knowledge).

People fall for it. Why else would Rahm Emanuel pop up on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert? Was I the only one who thought: Oh God it must be campaign time, Rahm is trying to look human again. I hate when he does that. It’s frightening. That smile. Like those horror movies where a doll comes to life. Like going to a Catholic funeral where the mortician used too much rouge, too much lipstick, and the old guy looks not alive, but rather like the waxwork dummy of a belle epoque hooker.

I’m used to Rahm in full robot mode, machine-gunning statistics he thinks supports him. Then suddenly he’s smiling on TV. What’s next? Rahm in a cardigan sweater, playing with a basket full of kitties?

And why? He’s going to win anyway. Seeing the act is just another reminder of how dumb he thinks voters really are. Hard to argue that one.