One would think that Dobson is a "fringe radical," but the more unpleasant reality is that he is probably the most powerful evangelical in America today. And even more troubling, he's credited with mobilizing Bush's evangelical base to help push him over the top during this past election. (Bush won by three million. Rove was upset that during the 2000 election, four million evangelicals didn't vote. Dobson, right or wrong, uses this to argue that Bush should be beholden to him.)
Here's a pretty comprehensive article on Dobson and his Focus on Family. He's a sharp operator, well-organized, well-connected, and therefore his aims to influence the direction this country takes may not be farfetched:
For Dobson, his followers, and many American evangelicals--who made up nearly a quarter of the electorate last Election Day and who voted for President Bush (news - web sites) by a factor of almost 4 to 1--change might finally be in the offing. Next week brings the second inauguration of the most religious evangelical president in modern history; he is expected to fill a string of Supreme Court vacancies with strongly conservative voices. And a handful of newly elected senators allied with the evangelical movement have already taken their seats on Capitol Hill.
Evangelicals haven't stood as much chance of molding Washington since they began organizing politically in the wake of Roe v. Wade (news - web sites). "This kind of hope was present after the 2000 election," recalls David Barton, who advised the Republicans on evangelical outreach for the election. "But it's grown from hope to confidence that something will change. It's the strongest emotion of expectation I've seen in decades." Those expectations include new curbs on abortion, a renewed push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and a more conservative federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court.
Dobson, perhaps more than anyone, will be most credible in leveraging evangelical power at the voting booth. That's partly because, politics aside, he's unrivaled as an evangelical leader. "Given Billy Graham's advanced age," says Richard Land, president of the 16 million-strong Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, "it's James Dobson who's stepped in to fill the void." Unlike Graham, though, Dobson's not a preacher. Over the past 35 years, Dobson, a child psychologist, has published upwards of two dozen books on child rearing and maintaining relationships (including a handful of runaway bestsellers), has hosted a daily radio show carried by 2,000 U.S. stations, and has helped Focus assemble an active mailing list of 2.5 million names. But stepping so squarely into the political ring threatens to alienate some of Dobson's mostly apolitical fans--not to mention Republicans who see the GOP's future as a "big tent."
Dobson, for his part, is ready to play hardball, having already sent letters to 1.2 million supporters in which he threatens to challenge six "red" and "purple" state Democratic senators up for re-election in 2006 if they filibuster Bush's conservative judicial nominees: Florida's Bill Nelson, Minnesota's Mark Dayton, West Virginia's Robert Byrd, North Dakota's Kent Conrad, New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, and Nebraska's Ben Nelson. U.S News has learned that Focus, a network of 36 "state policy councils" associated with the group, and other Christian organizations are planning to capitalize on the success of the 11 state ballot initiatives outlawing same-sex marriage that passed in November to promote similar measures in up to 15 more states in the next two years. The initiatives' backers hope their success will make it harder for senators in Washington to withhold support for a federal marriage amendment. And Dobson is also keeping an eye on the GOP. "There's a window which may remain open only a short time to make critical changes," he said in a recent interview with U.S. News. "If Republicans . . . in the White House and Senate squander this opportunity, I believe they will pay a price for it in four years--and maybe in two."
Although much of Dobson's political power derives from his ability to connect with the grass roots, he is more plugged into Washington than he lets on. "I have a very close relationship with Jim," Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (news, bio, voting record), the Senate's No. 3 Republican, tells U.S. News . "I consider him a friend." Indeed, "his influence [in Washington] is huge," says Land, who is widely seen as closer to the White House than Dobson. "He may not be an insider, but he can shut down the phone lines in Congress."
Just after Election Day, he almost did, encouraging listeners to phone Congress to block Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record)--who had warned Bush against judicial nominees who would overturn Roe --from assuming the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee (news - web sites). Some Hill offices logged a thousand-plus calls from abortion opponents after Dobson's broadcast.
In a show of how disciplined and organized the Christian right's leadership has become, a recently formed coalition of powerful religious activists known as the Arlington Group convened a conference call during which its members--including Dobson--agreed that it would be wiser to straitjacket Specter than to derail him. Paul Weyrich, a conservative Christian activist who heads the Free Congress Foundation, says gaining the GOP support necessary to chasten Specter would have been impossible without the strong turnout among "values" voters on Election Day and victories by conservative Christian Senate candidates. "It showed the realization by the majority leader [and] other leaders of that committee," he says, "that you simply cannot give our coalition the finger."
Weyrich tells U.S. News that, in a meeting with Specter after his public vow of support for Bush's nominees, he secured an additional pledge from the senator to allow conservative committee members to appoint some committee staff. (An aide to Specter denies he struck a deal but says the senator is "open to hiring good conservative candidates.") The Arlington Group, meanwhile, with roughly 75 members, will hold a strategy meeting in Washington during inauguration week in which U.S. News has learned that Texas Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record), a Judiciary Committee member, is slated to speak.
So, in today's America, James Dobson isn't a fringe radical so much as he is an influential player in Republican politics. He has connections with Santorum, Cornyn, and the new crop of evangelical Congressmen who are just now coming into power. He's got Bush/Cheney in debt to him, and he wants payment in form of judges and legislators who will work to outlaw abortion and pass the marriage amendment. In short, he's on a roll.
Now, maybe, the Sponge Bob goofiness will tarnish his image a bit, as Tinky Winky blew up in Falwell's face, a screwup that took him years to recover from, but that remains to be seen. I worry that the evangelical right has been so indoctrinated to fear the "homosexual agenda" that this may just seem plausible to them.