Did Dobson Push Powell to Endorse Obama?

Max Blumenthal has a good piece up on The Daily Beast on James Dobson’s longstanding dislike of Colin Powell and outright attacks on him that suggests that Dobson’s attacks fed into Powell’s aversion for the Right which, in turn played a part in Powell’s decision to endorse Barack Obama:

Back during the run-up to the 1996 presidential primaries, when some movement conservatives advanced the notion of Powell as the GOP’s most viable presidential nominee, Dobson moved to intimidate and silence the general’s boosters. Among Powell’s fans was the ardently anti-abortion Jack Kemp, who called him “Republican on almost every issue.” Neoconservative former Education Secretary William Bennett repeatedly praised Powell on the pages of the National Review, while Weekly Standard editor William Kristol argued in an editorial for his magazine that Powell was the only figure who could defeat the increasingly popular Bill Clinton. Already annoyed by the swell of movement support for the pro-choice Powell, Dobson was furious when Christian Coalition President Ralph Reed refused to condemn Powell’s possible candidacy during his appearance on This Week with David Brinkley.

Immediately, Dobson faxed a five-page letter to Reed accusing him of unholy motives. “Is power the motivator of the great crusade?” Dobson asked the fresh-faced operator. “If so, it will sour and turn to bile in your mouth… This posture may elevate your influence in Washington, but it is unfaithful to the principles we are duty-bound as Christians to defend.” Bauer copied the letter and blasted it out to other Powell-friendly conservatives, including Bennett, who Dobson baselessly accused of being “pro-abortion.” Shaken by Dobson’s jeremiad, Reed hastily composed a letter suggesting that attacks from the Christian right would only provoke Powell into running. The situation “required a delicate balancing act,” Reed insisted, according to Dobson’s official biography.

In 2000, Dobson lined up behind George W. Bush, the beginning of a special relationship that afforded Dobson weekly conference calls with Karl Rove’s underlings. Dobson soon leveraged his White House influence against his old enemy, Colin Powell, now elevated as secretary of state. Powell had roused his ire during an appearance at an MTV forum in February 2002, where, before an international audience of young people, he emphasized the importance of condoms in combating the global AIDS epidemic. “Forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people about,” the secretary of state replied when asked about the Vatican’s opposition to condoms. “It’s the lives of young people that are put at risk by unsafe sex, and therefore, protect yourself.”

The following day, the Focus on the Family chairman fired off an angry press release. “Colin Powell is the secretary of state, not the secretary of health. He is talking about a subject he doesn’t understand,” Dobson said. Then, he spent much of an appearance on Larry King Live railing against Powell, calling his condom advocacy “most uninformed.” Finally, Dobson devoted an entire broadcast of his radio show to berating Powell, while Bauer took to the media to demand that Powell “be taken to the woodshed.” By this time, White House switchboards overflowed with indignant calls from Focus on the Family’s supporters.

The day after Dobson’s broadcast, Bush delivered a speech directly contradicting Powell’s position on condoms. “When our children face a choice between self-restraint and self-destruction, government should not be neutral,” Bush declared, proposing a whopping $135 million budget for abstinence education while pointedly omitting any mention of condoms as an effective measure against sexually transmitted diseases. The Christian right celebrated Bush’s speech both as a victory for their movement and a defeat for Colin Powell.

Next, Focus on the Family demanded the ouster of an allegedly gay employee of USAID, the key foreign aid agency, which operates under the guidance of the secretary of state. “It was over the top, it was outrageous,” said former USAID director Andrew Natsios. Despite his objections, Natsios found himself authorizing a multi-million dollar grant in 2004 to an abstinence education group founded by two of Dobson’s top staffers, the Children’s AIDS Fund. In approving the funds, Natsios had to overrule a finding by USAID’s technical review panel that the Dobson-linked group was “not suitable for funding.” While USAID turned into a slush fund for Dobson, Powell remained the good soldier, loyal to White House orders.