Thursday, May 5, 2005

He’s Still a Whack Job

Howard Fineman profiles Daddy Dearest.

When I flew to Colorado Springs recently to interview Dr. James Dobson, he had an urgent matter to interview ME about: why, he wondered, did Don Imus think that he (Dobson) was a nut? He was anything but, Dobson said.

When Dobson came to Washington the other day for the White House Correspondents Dinner, he met another radio guy, comedian Al Franken. I wasn’t at the event (a musical at my daughter’s school took precedence), but Franken told me about it later. In typical fashion, Franken had tried to deadpan Dobson into exploding. “It must be great to always know the absolute truth,” he told Dobson, “because, for me, you know, it’s such a burden not to…” Dobson didn’t bite. “He knew it was a joke,” Franken recalled. They proceeded to debate the morals of abortion in what apparently was a civil manner.

I mention these anecdotes to explain why Dobson is, arguably, the most powerful social conservative in the country, central to the battle over federal judges–and a danger to the people who would oppose him. He has built an empire–Focus on the Family–by projecting an avuncular, unflappable image. Unlike evangelical Christian provocateurs such as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, Dobson isn’t a minister. He wants to convert souls to Christ, and denounce the evils of society, but there is no fire or brimstone in sight and no sound of doom in his voice. He wants to be on decent terms with–or at least win a modicum of respect from–the likes of Imus and Franken. He is media savvy.

And yet he is plunging into politics headlong after a lifetime of staying away from it, convinced that he must use all of his accumulated good will and power as a family counselor to render a harsh message of judgment against political leaders–federal–judges and members of congress–he thinks are allowing the country to sink into a hellhole or relativism and licentiousness.


He’s the kind of guy that anyone might want to talk to about their kids, and you have a sense that the discussion would be polite, even if you disagreed. It’s that decency and civility that has made Dobson such a force in the country.

But politics is another matter. He was venomous on the topic of the federal judiciary, which he sees largely as a coven of secular ayatollahs imposing a pro-abortion, pro-pornography, pro-gay-and-lesbian agenda on a Christian nation. He and his lieutenants have become deeply versed in the voting records and election prospects of the senators who will handle the judicial nominations.


Beneath the placid demeanor I sensed an urgency and intensity–a man close to the boiling point at what he sees as the iniquities of political leadership. Are members of Congress unruly children needing discipline from the “Dare to Discipline” author? Maybe so, but we don’t know how they will respond to Daddy Dobson. And we don’t know how Dobson himself will react if they defy him. He’s kept his cool so far, but that would be the ultimate test.

Well, Dobson may be charming and unflappable, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a menace to society. The history of the world and America is littered with scores of dictators and demagogues who were avuncular and charming until they were crossed. Add to that the fact that Dobson has his own little peculiar peccadilloes — he has a fascination for teenage boys and their explorations with homosexual feelings, as detailed in his book Bringing Up Boys. He seems to be completely unaware of some of the basics of our form of government, including the fact that the Judicial branch is by design accountable to no man or political party; it is only accountable to the foundation of this country, which happens to be the United States Constitution, not the Ten Commandments.

Dr. Dobson may have the ear of people in power and he may have a lot of followers. So did Father Coughlin. It doesn’t make him any more important than any other fringe-dweller with an agenda. It just makes him more dangerous.

Updated to correct artifact errors — Firefox and Blogger don’t always play well together, it seems.