The Saturday gala honoring Focus on the Family founder James Dobson started with a hint at the controversy over the announcement of Mitt Romney as the straw poll’s winner. Only the overall results had been announced to attendees earlier in the day. It was at a subsequent news conference that FRC distributed documents making clear that Huckabee won by a large margin among people who voted in person, and in the hours since Huckabee partisans were grumbling. FRC’s Chuck Donovan promised that everyone would get a detailed vote accounting as they left the event.
When Dobson took the stage he claimed that the media had been telling everybody that the pro-family and pro-life movements are dying, and to the media still in attendance, said, “Welcome to the morgue.” Dobson also complained about media reports of a closed-door meeting of conservative religious leaders at which Dobson and more than 40 others pledged that if neither party nominated a pro-life candidate they would vote for a minor party candidate, kicking off weeks of controversy and infighting. Dobson said reports that the group would try to create a third party were wrong, saying he agrees with Gary Bauer that a third-party would be political suicide and would limit the ability to influence the GOP.
Dobson voiced his frustration with the GOP, griping that in spite of Bush in the White House and control of Congress for six years, the Republicans “did almost nothing.” Dobson echoed complaints from throughout the weekend that the Republican Party had taken the movement for granted, paraphrasing Richard Viguerie’s analogy that the GOP had treated the Religious Right like a mistress – “they need us to get elected but want us to act like we don’t know them if we meet them on the street.”
Dobson recognized the great anxiety in the movement over the lack of a consensus presidential candidate to rally around, and about the prospects of a Democratic sweep in 2008. There is an “ominous feeling” that there are “gathering storm clouds” – by which he meant “there is at least the possibility that the far, far left is going to capture the triple crown in 2008 – that means the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate, it means all the offices of government…of course it would mean the Supreme Court will quickly change and that could set the direction of the dominant branch of government for 30 years.” He added that the scenario might include statehouses across the country.
Of that “catastrophic” possibility, Dobson shouted “We can’t let that happen!”
BUT, Dobson made clear that he wouldn’t budge from his pledge not to back Giuliani if he becomes the GOP nominee. (Perkins did the same at the afternoon press conference.) Dobson said he still has videotape from a 1988 rally in Washington at which he said, “I will never for the rest of my life cast a single vote for anyone who would kill an innocent baby.” Are we so terrified of the prospect of losing he asked, that we will “turn our backs on 45 million unborn children whose blood calls out to us?”
On the issue of marriage, Dobson said it was “on the ropes” and in far more danger than people realized, in spite of the victories in 2004 and 2006. “Our families are in greater danger now than they ever have been,” he said, saying that the legislature in New Jersey now has the votes to create same-sex marriage. Dobson predicted that if New Jersey legislators vote for marriage and aren’t punished at the polls, elected officials will create same-sex marriage in a number of states, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, Washington, Oregon, and California. “You’re going to have same-sex marriage spread all across the country and establish families and it will be gone – marriage as we have known it will be gone.” Without mentioning Fred Thompson by name, Dobson rejected his “federalist” opposition to a federal constitutional amendment, insisting that marriage had to be defined in the U.S. Constitution. “Are we now going to throw [marriage] on the ash-heap of history?” he thundered. “I say NO! Do you agree?” Attendees leapt to their feet cheering.
Echoing themes from Huckabee’s remarks earlier in the day, Dobson took on those who say the movement should, if necessary to prevent Democratic wins, set aside its moral beliefs and principles because the consequences of losing in 2008 would be so great. The problem with voting for the lesser of two evils, he said, “is you have still chosen evil.”
Dobson was clearly hurt by the reaction he has received to the news reports about the threat to abandon the GOP, saying that people had been mean to him:
“I’m not trying to tell everyone else how to vote…We’re not in the general election yet – we’re in a primary. Two days after my op- ed, the New York Times ran a poll that they had taken that said 60 percent of white evangelical Christians said they will not vote for someone who believes in abortion – so I’ve got a lot of company. But for three weeks I have been skewered…never in 30 years have I been criticized like I have for this position. Some of you have been angry with me, and some of you may be tonight…There is a possibility that we’ll have somebody in the White House that we cannot tolerate but we’ll have to.”
Perhaps not wanting to send off a couple of thousand activists with confusion and disunity as the final word, Dobson said there are “so many reasons for optimism.”
He said the movement was winning the hearts and minds of the American people, citing recent polls showing that a majority of Americans believe that abortion is morally wrong. And he insisted that “the Democrats are not a shoe-in no matter what you are hearing in the media.”
“The big x-factor in this situation is prayer,” he said, noting that his wife Shirley heads the (supposedly nonpartisan) National Day of Prayer. “They’re going to mobilize,” he said.
“Prayer makes a difference. That’s what the polling people don’t take into consideration. Because we’ve seen it before. Miracles do occur.”
Fitting an event that felt like the passing of leadership to a new generation, the invocation was given by the late Jerry Falwell’s son Jonathan, who has taken over his dad’s Thomas Road Baptist Church.
Until Dobson took the stage, the program was what you’d expect. Tributes, in person and on video, from old friends and fellow culture warriors like Chuck Colson, Ed Meese, Don Wildmon, and Gary Bauer; colleagues like Perkins and Jim Daly, Dobson’s successor as president of Focus on the Family; family memories from Dobson’s son and daughter, and warm words from his wife of 47 years. Don Hodel gave Dobson credit for putting George W. Bush in the White House twice by encouraging conservative evangelicals to turn out for him in 2000 and 2004.
One speaker was FRC board member and deep-pockets funder Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, whose son Erik Prince founded and leads Blackwater Security, which has been enriched by Bush administration contracts and has been the center of controversy over the actions of its contractors in Iraq.
Lee Greenwood of “Proud to be an American” fame provided entertainment. He closed his set with that signature song, not-so-humbly referring to it as “the nation’s anthem.” Attendees treated it as if it were the national anthem, rising to their feet and standing as he sang, a few with hands held up as if in prayer.