The religious right's new kingmaker.
It was the gay-marriage debate that finally hurled Dobson into politics wholeheartedly. The subject of homosexuality seems to exert a special power over him, and he has devoted much idiosyncratic thought to it. When discussing gays he spares no detail, no matter how prurient. In Bringing Up Boys, he gleefully reprints a letter he received from a 13-year-old boy who describes wiggling his naked body in front of the mirror to "make my genitals bounce up and down" and admits to having "tried more than once to suck my own penis (to be frank)." Dobson believes that such adolescents suffer from what he calls "pre-homosexuality," a formative stage which results from having a weak father figure. Dobson further contends that homosexuality, especially in such an early stage, can be "cured." His ministry runs a program called Love Won Out that seeks to convert "ex-gays" to heterosexuality. (Alas, the program's director, a self-proclaimed "ex-gay" himself, was spotted at a gay bar in 2000, an episode Dobson downplayed as "a momentary setback.")
To Dobson, gay marriage is a looming catastrophe of epic proportions. He has compared the recent steps toward gay marriage to Pearl Harbor and likens the battle against it to D-Day. While Dobson maintains that he'd prefer to stay out of politics, he has said that "the attack and assault on marriage is so distressing that I just feel like I can't remain silent." Earlier this year, Dobson started a new offshoot of Focus on the Family called Focus on the Family Action,which he used to campaign openly for Bush. And during the campaign he joined Ralph Reed and born-again Watergate conspirator Charles Colson in regular conference calls with Karl Rove and other senior White House officials.
With Bush's election, Dobson has won a major battle. But success brings its own perils. It's quite possible that Dobson, his hopes having been raised, will find them dashed. After all, Republican strategists will surely realize that too strong an anti-gay stand could further alienate moderates and independents (groups that John Kerry actually won this year).Dobson himself predicted future disappointment during an appearance on ABC's This Week last Sunday. Asked whether Bush would fail evangelicals, Dobson replied, "I'm sure he will fail us. He doesn't dance to our tune." If that's true, and Dobson believes his words about putting principle ahead of power, then his new bond with the GOP may already be in jeopardy.
Perhaps more damaging is the possibility that Dobson gets what he wants. Maybe the GOP will establish an anti-abortion Supreme Court, overturn Roe v. Wade, stamp out gay rights, ban stem-cell research forever, and shut down MTV and cancel The Bachelor. Voters may not be so pleased with the Republican Party after that. Despite the qualms they showed about gay marriage this year, there's no reason to think they want anything like Dobson's Utopia, and they could see a replay of, say, 1998, when the perception that angry culture warriors were running the GOP damaged the party at the polls. In one of his books, Dobson has written of the gay-rights movement that "[e]vil has a way of overreaching." So does the far right.
Michael Crowley is a senior editor at the
Illustration by Charlie Powell.