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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Dobson Difference

Josh Marshall among others has taken special note of the unusually abrasive comments made during and after the election by James Dobson, patriarch of the huge, Colorado-based Focus on the Family radio ministry. There is unmistakably a totalitarian tone to Dobson’s lurid arguments that gay people not only threaten the institution of marriage, but the survival of Planet Earth, along with his description of Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) as a “God’s people hater.”
This is nothing new for Dobson. I wrote a piece six years ago for The New Democrat magazine (the predecessor to the DLC’s Blueprint) noting that Dobson represented a new and dangerous strain of the Christian Right, based on the frequent parallels he drew between (Clintonian) America and Nazi Germany, and his corresponding claims that Christian conservatives were, like the Confessing Church of Nazi Germany, a rare beacon of conscience in a satanic society that was determined to wipe them out. I know that for many secular or Catholic or Jewish or “mainstream” protestant people all the Christian Right leaders pretty much sound alike, but Dobson is different: in the kulturkampf, he’s the apostle of Total War.
Dobson first came to my attention in 1996, for his part in a famous public controversy launched by Richard John Neuhaus’ First Things magazine, entitled “The End of Democracy?” Neuhaus posed the question whether legalized abortion and gay rights and other affronts to traditional culture justified civil disobedience and other extra-legal forms of resistance. In a subsequent issue of First Things, Dobson was by far the most emphatic in rejecting the “legitimacy” of “the current regime,” and of constitutional democracy as well, so long as the courts continued to defy “divine law.”
One of the enduring ironies of this controversy was that it created a serious split between hard-line Christian conservatives and the largely-Jewish neoconservatives who expressed horror at the theocratic views of Neuhaus, Dobson, and their allies. Yet little more than seven years later, Dobson and at least the most prominent neocons are yoked together to the political fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party.
It’s a truism–and like all truisms, partially true–that the GOP is an ideological party, while Democrats represent a coalition party. But underneath the surface of Republican harmony, there are serious differences that cannot be perpetually suppressed. I will defer to my colleague The Moose in analyzing the fault lines of contemporary conservatism. But I can’t help but wonder what doubts privately afflict Bush’s neocons. They have succeeded in convincing the president to rhetorically embrace their vision of America as a militant advocate of secular democracy and liberty in the Islamic world. But when they look down the party line, they cannot help but see their ally James Dobson, who so fervently believes that democracy and liberty are mere disposable tactics for the imposition of “divine law.”

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