James Dobson: The Religious Rights: 800-Pound Gorilla

By Leaming, Jeremy | Church & State, February 2005 | Go to article overview

James Dobson: The Religious Rights: 800-Pound Gorilla


Leaming, Jeremy, Church & State


A New York Times reporter recently dubbed James Dobson "the nation's most influential evangelical leader," a senior editor at the New Republic says he is the Right's "new kingmaker," and TV news pundits, cable and otherwise, can't get enough of him.

Similar accolades abound--from friend and foe--and are tied to the Colorado religious broadcaster's involvement in the 2004 elections.

"I can't think of anybody who had more impact than Dr. Dobson," on rousing evangelicals to the polls, Richard Viguerie, a GOP direct-mail guru, recently told U.S. News & World Report. "He was the 800-pound gorilla."

Dobson, who founded the nonprofit evangelical ministry Focus on the Family in 1977, is working hard to live up to the hype, or at least not blow this moment to exert his much-heightened visibility and power to advance the Religious Right's agenda. He and allies in the movement hope to erode the First Amendment principle of church-state separation and legislate fundamentalist views about abortion, homosexuality and other social concerns.

Dobson has warned politicians of all stripes that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they fail to submit to his demands. According to Dobson, evangelical Protestants played a major role in reelecting President George W. Bush, giving him a "great mandate." Bush and congressional Republicans, he says, must reward the religio-political movement.

"I believe what we have just experienced is not an end to the struggle, but a respite," Dobson told The Denver Post shortly after Bush's victory. "If the Republicans do what they've done in the past, which is to say, 'Thanks so much for putting us in power, now we don't want to talk to you anymore,' they will pay a severe price in four years and maybe two."

In a recent letter to millions of his followers, which The New York Times reported on in January, Dobson provided more specifics. First, he bragged about his involvement in defeating Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader from South Dakota. Dobson appeared at several anti-gay marriage rallies in the state, drawing tens of thousands, where he railed against federal judges, deriding them as tools of an evil agenda to destroy Western civilization. He blamed Daschle for blocking many of Bush's judicial nominations. One of FOF's publications, Citizen, noted that Dobson held two of those rallies within the last three months of the campaign, speaking to "approximately 70, 000 people--about 10 percent of the state's population."

Dobson wrote that Daschle's colleagues in the Senate should take note, "especially those representing 'red' states." He singled out Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nevada, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Bill Nelson of Florida. If they get in the way of Bush nominees to the federal court, Dobson warned they will be in the "bull's-eye" when up for re-election in 2006.

Additionally, Dobson promised in the letter "a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea" if Bush fails to nominate "strict constructionist" judges to the judiciary or if Democrats mount filibusters to block such nominees.

Before that letter, Washington politicos got a glimpse of the power Dobson may be able to wield. Dobson and allied Religious Right leaders were incensed when moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who was in line to become the Senate Judiciary chairman, suggested during a victory speech in Pennsylvania that judicial nominees bent on overturning Roe v. Wade would be difficult to confirm.

Dobson, during an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, called Specter a "problem," not only for his comments on judicial nominees, but "because he has been the champion of stem cell--embryonic stem cell research" and claimed "he must be derailed."

Specter quickly back-pedaled, telling reporters he never meant to suggest that anti-abortion judges would not be confirmed. …

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