alien & sedition.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
  Storm Brewing over Dobson Remarks

There's some pushback by the conservative netroots against James Dobson's calculated attack on Fred Thompson. Dobson, as you'll recall, phoned up US News & World Report to say what a shame it is that Thompson hates the little baby Jesus. The move seemed like a pretty straightforward result of Dobson's quid pro quo with Newt Gingrich: Newt reaffirmed Dobson's status as A-Number One Top Evangelical Honcho by using the Rev.'s radio show to confess his adulterous ways. This put Dobson in the position of being the one to give the green light for evangelicals to support the cancer-suffering-wife-divorcer's candidacy. Dobson's smear of Thompson, who looks to usurp Gingrich's role as the movement conservative favorite who'll ride in on a white horse to do battle with Rudy McRomney, seems like part of the package.

Some in the movement are hitting back. Here's GOPUSA President Bobby Eberle, who has been flogging a "Draft Thompson" petition:
Dobson should NOT play politics with someone’s Christian beliefs, and his unsolicited phone call to U.S. News & World Report seems very strange, indeed.

Being a Christian is a PERSONAL decision. It is a relationship between the person and his or her Lord and Savior. The decision to share that relationship publicly is also a PERSONAL decision. Dobson has absolutely no idea what is in Thompson’s heart, and to profess to know is wrong.
Playing politics with Christian beliefs is of course the entire premise of James Dobson's existence. If being a Christian is a strictly personal matter, then Dobson might as well be doing tent revivals on the Arkansas fairground circuit (and I'm not saying he shouldn't be).

At PoliBlog, Steven Taylor likewise wonders whether Dobson doesn't have too much influence:
[W]hile Dobson has the right to support whichever candidate he likes, this is a really good example of the problems some (many?) religious leaders get into when they start trying to be political brokers. By stating who and who isn’t a Christian (by Dobson’s definition, I might add) and linking that to a candidate’s desirability while simultaneously giving support to another candidate who has had questionable moral behavior creates a rather odd synergy. [...]

while Dobson has, as I noted, legitimate policy interests, he should place the reputation of his faith above short-term political gains and for some time, Dobson hasn’t (in my opinion) done a very good job on that front (another recent example would be his dismissive attitude in the Mark Foley scandal).

For Dobson to be so smitten with Gingrich is probably as much about the other candidates as it is about Gingrich, who has never struck me as an especially evangelical fellow (and I have paid close attention to his career for some time). However, Romney is a Mormon, Rudy is, well, Rudy, and the rest haven’t got much of a shot. Since Gingrich was willing to do the mea culpa routine on the radio with Dobson a few weeks back coupled with the lack of an alternative, I guess gave Newt the Dobson slot by default.
And, as Pam's House Blend noted, Dobson's remarks stirred up a a backlash at Free Republic, where the commenters were in no mood to tolerate the efforts of an old-guard gatekeeper to shut Thompson out. Sample comment:
Stuff it Dobson. We should be more interested in saving the US than your stupid concept of what a Christian is.
This is an interesting dustup because it may prove to be a test of the relative strength of James Dobson vs. the actual conservative grassroots. At the New Republic, Christopher Orr simply assumes that Dobson's smear means the end of Thompson's brief shot at being the conservative candidate. I'm not so sure - the reaction against Dobson, from the right, has been harsh. Grassroots conservatives seem to view Thompson as a genuinely conservative - yet genuinely electable - candidate. And they aren't taking kindly to Dobson's rather transparent hit job on Gingrich's behalf.

Of course, the Reverend has more political power in his little finger than do all the Freepers put together. But that power is based on the perception of his ability to marshal grassroots conservatives. If that perception is damaged, his power wanes. Meanwhile, let's not be so quick to say that his attack means that Thompson is no longer the conservative candidate.

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Has Dobson denied yet what he is reported to have said about Thompson's faith? If he said it, he should be ashamed and should be pilloried in the blogosphere. No man has the right to call another Christian a non-Christian. Shame on Dobson.
Don Juan of Austria
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