Is Dobson Calling for the Right to Disengage?

Yesterday, I wrote a post, based largely on this post from Dan Gilgoff, about James Dobson and company lamenting their relative inability to influence the political culture at the moment, now that Democrats are in control of both the White House and the Congress.

There is certainly a sense of panic gripping the Religious Right at the moment, but I think that Gilgoff is reading a bit too much into Dobson’s admission that his forces can’t stop things like hate crimes legislation and urging his followers to simply pray:

[I]t’s important to note that Dobson is entirely serious about prayer as a real strategy to effect change, as are tens of millions of other American Christians. That’s why I wrote that Dobson has surrendered politically for the moment, not that he’s surrendered entirely.

But to encourage Christian disengagement from politics, at least until Republicans return to power in some branch of the federal government, is no small thing. That’s especially true because evangelicals had been politically disengaged for much of the 20th century. Their return to the political arena in the late 1970s was a hard-won victory for culture warriors like Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell.

To encourage evangelical Christians to sit on the political sidelines until a better day arrives sounds like a call to return to that previous era, when the public humiliation of 1925’s Scopes “monkey trial” scared evangelicals out of politics for the next half century.

Is he just facing the facts about the Democrats’ monopoly in Washington? Or has he given up too easily?

Dobson is, if anything, a political realist and while I suspect that he is genuinely alarmed by the current political environment, he’s not about to give up – and he certainly isn’t calling for his followers to “disengage” from politics.  In fact, he has made that abundantly clear in recent weeks, and his organization’s action center is still working on everything from hate crimes to executive nominations.

It must be remembered that, during the eight years George W. Bush was in office, Dobson was hailed as king of the “values voters,” he was hobnobbing with Senate leaders like Bill Frist and Rick Santorum, his organization had easy access to the White House, and he was being personally courted by the administration when it came to things like generating support for Harriet Miers.

Once upon a time, Dobson had a seat at the right hand of the President of the United States:

But those days are over and now, with Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of Congress, Dobson’s influence in Washington DC has plummeted, he’s being shut out of events he used to control, and he’s reduced to sharing his program with right-wing back-benchers like Reps. Louie Gohmert and Steve King.

Dobson realizes that his influence, and the influence of his movement as a whole, is at its nadir at the moment and that, given the lack of allies they have in power, all that they can really do is pray.

But this is not any sort of call for “disengagement” on the part of those who share his views, a point he made very clearly just a few weeks ago when the last round of “is Dobson calling it quits?” punditry was taking place:

It would not be accurate not to admit that we lost the White House, we lost the House, and we lost the Senate, and we probably will loose in the courts, and we lost almost every department of government with this election. But the war is not over – pendulums swing and we’ll come back. We’re gonna hang in there and, you know, it’s not going to be a surrender.

It was, after all, just two years ago that Gilgoff himself was writing about “how James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are winning the Culture War.”

As a person who has spent years covering the Right, Gilgoff ought to know better than anyone that Dobson is not the kind of man who throws in the towel on these issues, no matter how dire the prospects may seem at the moment.