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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