Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dobson throws a tantrum

Influential fundamentalist leader James Dobson said in a letter published today that John McCain is an enemy of the conservative movement and, if he is the Republican nominee, Dobson will not vote for the first time in his life.
I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative, and in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are. He has sounded at times more like a member of the other party. McCain actually considered leaving the GOP caucus in 2001, and approached John Kerry about being Kerry's running mate in 2004. McCain also said publicly that Hillary Clinton would make a good president. Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does NOT make the medicine go down. I cannot, and will not, vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.

But what a sad and melancholy decision this is for me and many other conservatives. Should Sen. McCain capture the nomination as many assume, I believe this general election will offer the worst choices for president in my lifetime. I certainly can't vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama based on their virulently anti-family policy positions. If these are the nominees in November, I simply will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life.

Dobson said this statement was just his view as a private citizen, but he did make a point of making that view as public as possible. He is clearly trying to influence someone by threatening to sit this one out. But if he is making a threat to take his ball and go home, who is he making the threat to? The nomination is no longer decided by a group of white men in a smoke filled room; it is decided by millions of people who identify themselves--for a wide variety of reasons--as Republicans. Many of those millions would be overjoyed to see Dobson go. They think the takeover of the Grand Ol' Party by the religious right has been a disaster for the Party (they're right, by the way). The voters who most care about Dobson's threats are already on his side in opposing McCain. So what is the point in this threat?

He's acting out. He's throwing a tantrum in public. If he can't have his way, he'll hold his breath till he turns bluer than the next congress. If his his tantrum has any purpose at all it is to set the seed of a narrative that the election was lost because the Party lost the favor of Dobson. If they want to win again, they had better do a better job of sucking up to him in the future. But that returns us to my question: who is he blackmailing? Does he really think tens of millions of Republican voters are going to change the way they vote in 2012, just to please James Dobson?

Dobson himself tells us what should be done with willful children who throw tantrums in public. They should be disciplined, beaten actually, with a "rod of correction" until their will is broken and they behave in a decorous manner. I'm not suggesting that Dobson be taken out and horse-whipped, I'm not sure who that duty would rightly fall to (his parents aren't alive, are they?).

Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report suggests who Dobson is really performing for and who could administer a punishment that would make his little eyes tear up.
Dobson, on the other hand, collects checks from donors who expect him to help drive the Republican agenda. If he can’t even stop an annoying senator from getting the Republican nomination, why would his followers bother sending him more money?

On a related note, of course, Republican leaders won’t be afraid of him anymore, because they’ll see his threats don’t amount to much. Why jump when Dobson demands it if he has no real electoral influence?

Dobson can't change the behavior of millions of voters, and probably doesn't believe he can (though I'm not entirely sure on that point). If he can convince enough people of the narrative that the election was lost because the Party lost the favor of Dobson, then he will maintain a influence with the people who matter, the pundits and Party leaders who flatter him and the little people who are impressed when they see him flattered and send money to him to continue to be a big man representing their agenda. He doesn't need to actually accomplish anything to advance that agenda to keep the checks flowing in; he just needs to maintain the illusion that he could accomplish something in the very near future if--and only if--the checks keep coming.

Dobson, his influential friends, the Dobson flatterers, and the Dobson wannabes are scared this year. This profitable structure that has been almost forty years in the making is starting to crack and crumble. Dobson is fighting for his life. His tantrum and the narrative of his influence are a desperate throw of the dice. The whole edifice of the religious right and the conservative money machine won't go in one election but, if we're lucky, it will be considerably diminished after November. When the pundits and conservative opinion makers get together to decide what happened, there will be a lot of finger pointing, and someone (several someones) will need to be purged. I expect the ax to fall hard on the religious right, but there will be plenty of blame for others to. Dobson might be able to save his precious influence with this act, but it's just as possible that he will find himself among the purged and retire from politics. It was an ungodly place to begin with, we can expect to hear him sniff.

Just for the record, I'm not one who thinks we are seeing the break-up of the marriage of convenience between the religious right and the rest of the Republican coalition. At present, they have nowhere else to go. But in a Republican Party with diminished influence and power, we can be sure the knives will come out and it will be a very rough marriage for a while. And, for we liberals, secularists, and yellow dog Democrats, it will be very entertaining to watch.

No comments: