DATE: 1/24/2005 09:52:00 AM
Kingmaker? - Hugh Hewitt defends James Dobson in at least three separate posts on his website. I think the SpongeBob episode was overblown and am annoyed at myself for believing the New York Times. However, I still think Dobson is a poor leader for the religious conservative movement. Unfortunately, he doesn't see things that way:
In a broadcast shortly after the November election, Dobson expressed how grateful he was that Mr. Bush was re-elected and he criticized Democrats and the media. But Dobson also issued a pointed warning to the Republican Party.
"If they get disinterested in the values of the people who put them in office as they have done in the past, if that happens again, I believe the Republican Party will pay an enormous price in four years and maybe two," Dobson said.Left unspoken is the threat that Dobson has made in the past - that he will be the one who helps make them pay that price. This shows that while Dobson is a fine psychiatrist with impeccable credentials and experience in his chosen field, he should stay out of politics. It is this sort of political petulance that has led to the very problems Dobson complains about.
In 1992, religious conservatives didn't like President George H.W. Bush and many of them stayed home on election day. This inaction led to eight years of an administration that appointed hundreds of federal judges, three Supreme Court members and hired countless civil servants to posts in essential federal agencies. Judges appointed to lifetime terms are the source of most complaints by social conservatives such as Dobson. While the odd piece of legislation may arise from time to time, such as the partial-birth abortion ban, the majority of political battles over the next decade are likely to involve the federal judiciary.
The problem is one between principle and pragmatism. Religious life operates in the realm of principle - what's right, what's wrong, no middle ground. Politics is more pragmatic - numbers, majorities, what works - compromise. Unfortunately, most religious conservatives come to politics with the expectation that politicians they support will legislate principles in grand gestures and make sweeping changes, not realizing that politics is a game of inches. Principles are protected by passing one piece of pragmatic legislation at a time.
Principles are also protected by ensuring friendly judges are appointed to the bench. This is where the 'my way or we stay home' approach of Dobson fails. The judges appointed by the Clinton administration have the potential to do more damage to the values Dobson and co. hold dear than any politician elected to office. But it's elected officials that nominate and approve judges, so if we stay home on election day, we're practically handing control of the judiciary over to those who disagree with us.
The major problem I have with James Dobson is his penchant for making 'all or nothing' threats against Republicans without realizing the effect his actions have where it really counts. If Dobson stays home on election day 2006 and counsels his audience to do the same, the era of conservative judges and legislation ends. If Dobson really wants to make a difference, he should encourage people in his audience to work on the grassroots level and ensure that good conservatives win statewide office.
He should also realize that politics doesn't follow the same rules as religious belief, and sometimes practicality is necessary. Better to get half a loaf now and wait for the rest than not eat at all. If Dobson wants to know why Republicans often ignore the principles of religious conservatives, he need look no further than his own statement above. If religious conservatives want to be part of the base, they should refrain from threatening to bolt every time they don't get their way. In politics, dependability is key to influence and petulance doesn't command respect.