James Dobson Jumps the Shark, Who Will Follow?

James Dobson Jumps the Shark, Who Will Follow? October 27, 2008

It’s been a pet peeve of mine for quite a while that those who latch onto the Republican party based on abortion tend not to be too concerned about its abysmal policies on other areas. How rare it is to hear somebody support the Republicans based on the abortion issue while at the same time decrying the ruinous pro-rich economic policies and the kneejerk bellicosity in foreign affairs. More often than not, this embrace is based on pure ideology, ideology that proves immune to reason, to facts and circumstances.

Let me use James Dobson as an extreme argument. His organization has recently penned a hypothetical letter from 2012, after four years in Obama’s America. You should read this letter, if for nothing else than as a window into the mind of these people. The paranoia is frightening, the removal from reality is depressing. What is most interesting is the choice of subjects chosen. Sure, the buttons of the so-called social conservative movement are all pushed, but look at some of the other issues, where Dodson has bought the Republican agenda hook, line, and sinker– even in the areas where it deviates greatly from core Christian principles, let alone Catholic social teaching.

Let’s start with some of the paranoia. Here are some excerpts from the letter, from four years of an Obama presidency:

*  [Boy scouts] disband rather than be forced to obey the Supreme Court decision that they would have to hire homosexual scoutmasters and allow them to sleep in tents with young boys.

* Elementary schools now include compulsory training in varieties of gender identity in Grade 1, including the goodness of homosexuality.

* Physicians who refuse to provide artificial insemination for lesbian couples now face significant fines or loss of their license to practice medicine.

* Churches have no freedom to refuse to allow their buildings to be used for wedding ceremonies for homosexual couples.

* Churches and parachurch organizations are no longer free to reject homosexual applicants for staff positions such as parttime youth pastor or director of counseling.

* Homosexuals are now given special bonuses for enlisting in military service (to attempt to
compensate for past discrimination), and all new recruits, and all active-duty and reserve personnel, are compelled to take many hours of “sensitivity training”.

* Christian ministries have been prohibited from use of campus buildings, campus bulletin boards, advertising in campus newspapers, and use of dormitory rooms or common rooms for Bible studies.

* Public school teachers are no longer free to lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States.

* Doctors who refuse to perform abortions can no longer be licensed to deliver babies at
hospitals in any state.

* Television programs at all hours of the day contain explicit portrayals of sexual acts. Pornographic magazines are openly displayed in gas stations, grocery stores and on newsstands.

* Parents’ freedom to teach their children at home has been severely restricted.

I have little comment here, as the lunacy indicts itself. I did raise an eyebrow at the relatively low weight placed on abortion, however, and the fact that they see gay activists under every bed. Then again, I’m used to Catholic circles, and maybe this is an evangelical thing. I’ll be charitable on this one. But I do want to focus on a number of key themes where Dobson deviates completely from Christian tenets, all the while feeding from standard GOP talking points. I will focus on five core areas: military, terrorism, guns, health care, and the economy.

First, military policy. After Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq, “Al-Qaeda operatives from Syria and Iran poured into Iraq and completely overwhelmed the Iraqi security forces”, proceeding to launch a campaign of genocide and emboldening terrorists in other countries. Talk about delusion! It is a perfect example of the kind of ideologically-driven context-free kneejerk analysis that got us into this mess in the first place. These guys seriously believe a Sunni fundamentalist army is hiding in Shia Iran waiting for its chance? They believe that the rump group of extremists that call themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq is still a powerful force– when the Sunni have long rejected them? They seem completely oblivious to the real tensions and divisions within Iraq, content instead to view it through the simplistic dualistic frame that so dominated the discredited Bush administration. And anyway, any paying close to attention to Al Qaeda understands that they relish the Iraq war, and want more US engagement rather than less– this is how they keep up recruitment. Evidence does seem to suggest that Al Qaeda desires a McCain presidency. No surprise.

Second, terrorism. The letter suggests that giving trials to suspected terrorists will somehow lead to more terrorist attacks. Notice what is not mentioned: torture. The omission is telling, in light of the dark consequentialist undertones. It also manages to mock Obama for increasing foreign aid to poorer nations, something which the Church recommends as a Christian response to terrorism. The letter also notes that “Dozens of Bush officials, from the Cabinet level on down, are in jail, and most of them are also bankrupt from legal costs.” Highly unlikely, but such an outcome such be applauded, not condemned. After all, doesn’t the law have a pedagogical function?

Third, gun ownership. “It is illegal for private citizens to own guns for self defense in eight states, and the number is growing with increasing Democratic control of state legislatures and governorships.” This would be a wonderful development that, sadly, has virtually no chance of becoming reality. This issue is a pitch-perfect example of how the Dobsonites distort their Christianity. I hope any Catholic supporters of this group understands that the US bishops are long-time advocates of stringent gun control, and have advocated a ban on the “importation, manufacture, sale, possession and use of handguns.” As I’ve argued before, the current laissez-faire approach to gun ownership in the United States is rooted more in Hobbesian liberalism that in concern for the common good. The letter even claims that this development led to far higher inner-city crime, when the evidence suggests the opposite, and when all those responsible for the care of the inner-city community–including law enforcement agents–support robust gun control. Here’s what really annoys me: when did unfettered gun ownership become an article of faith of the so-called Christian movement?

Fourth, health care. This section is truly incredible. From Obama’s proposal which is based mainly on the current employment-related model, Dobson sees complete government control of health care. This results in long waiting lists, and “because medical resources must be rationed carefully by the government, people older than 80 have essentially no access to hospitals or surgical procedures”. This makes me angry. As a Christian, surely Dobson understands that health care is a basic human right, and yet 45 million remain uninsured and a further 25 million are severely underinsured. Does he not realize that the US pays more in health care per capita than any other developed nation and gets less in return? Is he not unaware that rationing by time in single-payer systems is no greater than in the US, where about 40 percent of the population are also rationed by cost to one degree or another? That he would ignore all this to cough up some crude ideological talking points is revealing.

Fifth, the economy. I may well have saved the best for last. This is where a “Christian” actually argues in favor of a “preferential option for the rich”. Here is the basis of the argument (which shocking in its economic cluelessness): Obama’s tax cuts plunged the economy into a huge recession. Yes, merely putting the top marginal income tax rates back to where they were under Clinton– when the economy enjoyed the largest sustained expansion since the 1960s and saw productivity rebound to boot– is a recipe for disaster! I remember the same arguments being made back in 1993– don’t these guys ever get new material? Oh, and as for the redistributive elements: “It turns out that the people President Obama called “the rich” were not all that rich. They were just ordinary people who worked hard, saved, and built small businesses that provided jobs and brought economic growth.” So there you have it.

But wait, it gets worse. In Dobson’s logic, Obama’s tax cuts “were actually a gigantic redistribution of income, a huge welfare payment, a way to spread the wealth around”– because some would go as tax credits to the working poor who don’t pay income tax. Aside from the fact that the poor are heavily burdened by other taxes (social security contributions and sales taxes are pretty regressive), this kind of tax credit has long been pushed by libertarian-leaning economists like Milton Friedman. But I guess in evangelical world, it is anathema to “spread the wealth around”– that is, unless the redistribution is going upwards. The stupidity is mind-boggling. Any progressive income tax system is redistributive. Does Dobson propose a flat tax with a zero threshold? There’s still more. For Dobson is proposing the utterly discredited notion that tax cuts can pay for themselves when he says that “as numerous economists had predicted, higher tax rates meant that the government took in less
money.” Well, no, numerous economists predicted no such thing. Some predict a positive supply-side effect from tax cuts (people work more, save more, invest more), and most admit this is modest, but nobody claims the revenue gain would outweigh the revenue loss from cutting taxes. This is seriously voodoo-land material. It’s clear that Dobson does not understand economics. But his constant attacks on anything that he sees as downward redistribution stands in stark opposition to Christianity, as has been authoritatively interpreted by the magisterium over the past hundred years or so.

To round it out, the letter opposes the strengthening of union rights, as it would supposedly raise prices! Again, this goes completely against the Catholic tradition. And then there is energy: while not mentioning global warming– a core challenge for all Christians– Dobson claims that Obama’s opposition to drilling pushes up gas prices. He mocks the fact that lower consumption could reduce carbon emissions. And then there is the stark warning that “the courts have been leaning so far in a pro-environmentalist direction.”

Why do I spend so much time going through these bizarre talking points? Well, because I see these types of arguments over and over again from my fellow Catholics who are inclined to support Republicans. Usually, but not always, the reasoning is somewhat more sophisticated, but fundamentally, I detect an adherence to a liberal agenda that places the right of the individual above the common good. In this worldview, every individual has the right to be self-sufficient, and the government should not attempt to redistribute wealth, to influence bargaining power between classes, or to control certain kinds of behavior. It is a worldview based on materialism. We have a duty to reject such thinking, just as we have a duty to reject the thinking of that other group of liberals who would like the government to keep clear of other areas in our social life, such as defining marriage or protecting the life of the unborn. Despite the heated rhetoric of the phony “culture war”, these groups are close cousins. Of course, Catholic Dobson-defenders like Bill Donohue seem oblivious to these issues.

For Catholics to support any of these movements, it must be on the grounds of attaining the “least harm” to the common good, rather than a full-fledged embrace of the underlying ideology. So when I claim to abhor the majority Democratic position on abortion, it would be nice for my fellow Catholics who support McCain to follow the same path once in a while, rather than becoming mini-Dobsons.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Wow. Just, wow.

  • How many of your recent posts have been about your abhorrence of the Democrats’ position on abortion?

    How many have been about bashing Republicans over less grave matters?

  • blackadderiv

    The link provided sends you to the Focus website, but I haven’t been able to find the hypothetical 2012 letter referred to. Do you have a more specific cite for it?

  • How many of your recent posts have been about your abhorrence of the Democrats’ position on abortion?

    How many have been about bashing Republicans over less grave matters?

    Perhaps that is because MM assumes, as do most of our readers, the evil of abortion. The point need not be elaborated. The evil of abortion is obvious. On the other hand, most of our readers are oblivious to or outright celebrate the evil policies of the Republican party. MM is right to emphasize them and to throw them in our faces.

  • S.B.

    I guess partisan opponents have a tendency to exaggerate the horrible things that would supposedly happen (this should be a familiar feeling, given your propensity to scaremonger about McCain supposedly being in favor of “torture,” despite his having promoted legislation to ban it). Indeed, it’s curious to describe the first bullet-pointed list as “lunacy” when all but about three bullets have already happened in some states or cities (or have been promoted by Democrats therein).

  • S.B.

    It’s curious that you ridicule the first bullet-pointed list when all but about three bullets have already happened in some states or cities (or have been promoted by Democrats therein).

  • Pharisee Spotter

    This one’s for you, Dobson.

    Rocky Mountain Hiiiiiiiiigh . . .
    Blue Coloraaaaaaaaaado ! ! !
    Rocky Mountain Hiiiiiiiiigh . . .
    Blue Coloraaaaaaaaaado ! ! !

  • Isn’t Dobson the guy who advocates beating children as young as 18 months? He is the kind of ur-fascist that Sinclair Lewis warned would come to America “wrapped in the flag and carrying the Cross.”

  • S.B.

    Wow, Matt, I think you’re really distorting Dobson’s record there. Do you have a link? When I use google, I do see a Focus on the Family webpage saying that children under 15 to 18 months should NOT be spanked, period, and then giving the following as an example of when and how it would be appropriate to spank an 18-month old “very gently”:

    They can then very gently be held responsible for how they behave. Suppose a child is reaching for an electric socket or something that will hurt him. You say, “No!” but he just looks at you and continues reaching toward it. You can see the mischievous smile on his face as he thinks, I’m going to do it anyway! I’d encourage you to speak firmly so that he knows he is pushing past the limits. If he persists, slap his fingers just enough to sting.

    I think it’s self-evidently absurd to describe this as advocacy of “beating children.”

  • Isn’t Dobson the guy who advocates beating children as young as 18 months? He is the kind of ur-fascist that Sinclair Lewis warned would come to America “wrapped in the flag and carrying the Cross.”

    Ah yes, Dobson believes in spanking children, therefore he is an “ur-fascist.” Question: of all the men that helped rid Europe of actual fascism during WWII, what percentage do you think spanked (or, excuse me, “beat”) their children?

  • I think its interesting that the very thing that Dobson is afraid of, that the Church should be a persecuted minority, may also be one of the signs that the Church is acting faithfully. Sometimes I wonder if the Church is at its best when it is at odds with the world.

  • You’re right, SB – upon further review, it appears that what I wrote previously regarding Dobson’s advocating “beating” 18 month old toddlers is a stretch at best. He said that physical discipline can begin with a thump to the fingers “just enough to sting” when the toddler is 18 months old, and it should stop by the time the child is 10 or 12.

  • Blackadder – The Greatest Generation won World War II because they were spanked as children? I guess by that logic, the Boomers lost the Vietnam War because of Dr. Spock… which brings up another of those people the right is convinced wrecked America.

    Setting limits for your kids is important, and I’m willing to allow that spanking might have a role in that. The question is, what are you trying to say when you spank your kids?

    Spanking as an expression of dominance – an expression of the idea that Dad Is To Be Obeyed and Never Questioned – is destructive and teaches authoritarianism. I suspect that Dobson is using spanking as an expression of Fatherly (masculine) authority. He believes it models the ultimate authority: God (at least as Dobson understands Him.)

  • Further tangent: I think the Catholic Right’s fetishization of the Tridentine Rite is really a sort of cultural restorationism: an expression of a longing for the authoritarianism of the Church’s Pre-Vatican II culture (“Father, I may have swallowed some toothpaste this morning before Mass. May I worthily receive communion?” “Yes, child, but you ought to be careful about that…”) that was contemporaneous with the last widespread use of the Old Rite.

    I read right-leaning commenters here and elsewhere say that the Catholic’s “first duty is to obey” and it worries me.

  • Blackadder – The Greatest Generation won World War II because they were spanked as children?

    *Sigh* Did I say that the Greatest Generation won WWII because they were spanked as children? No. Is it easier to pretend I had said this rather than defend your original comment? Probably.

  • BA – *Sigh* -I retracted my original comment 🙂

  • Brett

    Non abiatte paura.

  • ragekj

    Matt Talbot-Is it really that bad to ask for guidance and spiritual nourishment from those who are better educated than oneself? Is it that bad to hope that one’s pastor will call a spade a spade and preach the truth on topics like abortion and contraception? I think that those who love the usus antiquor love its beauty. I certainly haven’t seen a tendency among my friends who prefer the Extraordinary Form to check their minds at the door; I have seen a willingness to form themselves in the faith and to accept the teachings of the Church. Along with my friends who prefer the Novus Ordo, they then strive to live out the teachings of Christ to the world, as directed by the Church both at the very beginning and at the Council of Vatican II.

  • ragekj – I myself love the Old Rite, and I was glad when I heard of the Motu Proprio. I particularly love sacred Polyphony, and am glad that the Masses of Palestrina can be celebrated as they were originally written – all that to say, I’m not judging everyone who likes the Tridentine Rite to be a right-wing extremists (I’m obviously not one).

    Is it really that bad to ask for guidance and spiritual nourishment from those who are better educated than oneself?

    Of course not. I do this all the time.

    Is it that bad to hope that one’s pastor will call a spade a spade and preach the truth on topics like abortion and contraception?

    Of course not. I myself am both gratified and challenged by homilizing on abortion, contraception, unjust war, greed and materialism, and so on. “Afflict the comfortable.”

    I certainly haven’t seen a tendency among my friends who prefer the Extraordinary Form to check their minds at the door; I have seen a willingness to form themselves in the faith and to accept the teachings of the Church. Along with my friends who prefer the Novus Ordo, they then strive to live out the teachings of Christ to the world, as directed by the Church both at the very beginning and at the Council of Vatican II.

    I’m not saying that people who prefer the Old Rite (aside from schismatics like SSPX) are not faithful Catholics, or are mindless automatons – as I say, I love the Tridentine Rite; I was making a judgment about the motives of many on the Catholic Right who believe the root of all our problems started with Paul VI and the New Mass.

    I say this based on reading comboxes of a variety of right-leaning Catholic blogs – every time the topic is the Liturgy, there is lots and lots of commentary along the lines of, “All those aging hippies with their love beads playing Kum Ba Ya at Mass…” (honest now, when was the last time you really, actually heard the song “Kum Ba Ya” played at Mass? I’ll give you my answer, and keep in mind that I went to Mass in Berkeley…in the sixties. My answer is, gosh, maybe…1969? 1971, tops?) I sometimes worry that there subset of people at every Mass that are checking the rubrics and Waiting for Father to Make a Mistake.

  • See Johann Hari in today’s Independent on Republican enthusiasm for torturers. Please end this indecency.

  • ragekj

    Matt: OK, I hear ya. Thanks for clearing that up.
    Palestrina is amazing.
    I think this tangent of a tangent is finished.

  • digbydolben

    Well, I’ll add another “tangent,” though I think this one is EXTREMELY important. I think you will be able to see, through the language and tenor of THIS article, that the right-wing fundamentalists who get their religion from the likes of Dobson are able to whip themselves into a frenzy of hatred for Obama that is unprecedented:

    http://www.velociworld.com/Velociblog/Oldvelocity/003271.html

    When Obama is elected President of your country, I genuinely and honestly fear for his life. Religion (the Satan in the car who rapes Tarwater) is being used by these people to create a frenzy of “righteous” religious fury that directly partakes of the bloody-minded fervour of “crusaders.”

  • c matt

    Matt,

    I think you read way to much into spanking – sometimes its just so your kid won’t get the shit shocked out of him by sticking his finger in an electrical socket.


  • Perhaps that is because MM assumes, as do most of our readers, the evil of abortion. The point need not be elaborated. The evil of abortion is obvious. On the other hand, most of our readers are oblivious to or outright celebrate the evil policies of the Republican party. MM is right to emphasize them and to throw them in our faces.

    If it is so obvious, then why is it not to your chosen candidate, who is very smart?

  • c matt – As I said before, I’m willing to allow for the possibility of spanking. It’s really what you are expressing by spanking:

    “Setting limits for your kids is important, and I’m willing to allow that spanking might have a role in that. The question is, what are you trying to say when you spank your kids?

    Spanking as an expression of dominance – an expression of the idea that Dad Is To Be Obeyed and Never Questioned – is destructive and teaches authoritarianism.”

  • Ressourcement

    Perhaps that is because MM assumes, as do most of our readers, the evil of abortion. The point need not be elaborated. The evil of abortion is obvious. On the other hand, most of our readers are oblivious to or outright celebrate the evil policies of the Republican party. MM is right to emphasize them and to throw them in our faces.

    I agree. – jn

  • If it is so obvious, then why is it not to your chosen candidate, who is very smart?

    John, I meant that it should be obvious to our readers. Cheers!

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