Right Wing Watch: In Focus | Sept. 1996 |

Dobson’s Choice: Religious Right Leader Becomes Political Power Broker


Focus on the Family founder and chairman James Dobson is perhaps the most influential right-wing Christian leader in the country, with a huge and loyal following that he can reach easily through an impressive media empire. He is a household name for millions of parents and families who have come to know him through his parenting advice books and videos. He is increasingly using his goodwill and media access to promote far-right politics and politicians, and to push the Republican Party to more vigorously adopt the Religious Right’s social agenda. Yet many Americans probably heard of him for the first time in January thanks to SpongeBob SquarePants. When Dobson argued that an educational video featuring a number of popular children’s cartoon characters advanced the homosexual agenda, he was ridiculed for “outing” SpongeBob.[1] In fact, Dobson wasn’t asserting that SpongeBob is gay, but that teaching children to be tolerant of those different from themselves, particularly gays and lesbians, is a sinister proposition.[2]

Dobson’s stance — equating tolerance with evil — reflects the extremism of his policy positions and his unforgiving stance toward those who disagree with him. While his comments about SpongeBob were deserving of ridicule, Dobson must not be dismissed as a buffoon. In fact, it is urgently important that journalists and other Americans pay closer attention to the positions Dobson promotes — and his influence with the politicians he is helping get elected.

While Dobson made a name for himself as an avuncular purveyor of parenting advice, he now uses that power to promote a range of troubling views and candidates who share those views:

  • He says the gay rights movement is seeking the “utter destruction of the family”[3] and likens proponents of marriage equality to the Nazis[4]
  • He has backed candidates who call for the execution of abortion providers[5], including recently sworn-in U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn[6]
  • He strongly opposes embryonic stem cell research, which he calls “state-funded cannibalism” [7]
  • He urges parents to abandon the public school system[8 ]
  • He supports a constitutional amendment that would permit coercive organized prayer in public schools[9], and supported a state Supreme Court justice who defied federal court orders so that he could use his position as a judge to promote his personal religious beliefs[10]

Dobson has a massive radio empire and millions of followers he regularly exhorts to action, increasingly on behalf of right-wing Republican candidates to public office. In 2004, Dobson created a new political organization, endorsed approximately 25 Republican candidates (including President Bush), and campaigned for successful right-wing Senate candidates.[11] As the election approached, Dobson and other Religious Right leaders participated in weekly strategy sessions with the Bush reelection campaign.[12] Focus on the Family (FOF) sponsored the “I Vote Values” initiative[13], aimed at encouraging more religious conservatives to register and vote. Meanwhile, Dobson used his daily radio program to pressure Congress to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.[14]

Dobson, like his Religious Right colleagues, is now urging President Bush and congressional leaders to aggressively pursue the right wing’s social agenda and pack the federal courts with ideologues who share their worldview. And Dobson, in his trademark bullying political style, is threatening retaliation against anyone who is not sufficiently fervent.

In spite of his place at the center of right-wing politics in America, Dobson likes to cultivate the sense that he would rather not be playing politics. In August 2004, during the height of what was for Dobson an extremely active campaign season, he bristled: “It bothers me a lot, because 95 percent of what we do here [at Focus on the Family] is not related to public policy. And yet whenever the media comes here, all they want to talk about is who I’m supporting for the presidency.” [15] It sometimes seems as though Dobson is protesting too much. Frequently, the political endorsement he gives is prefaced with an I don’t do this very often caveat.[16] And, he claims not to be a Republican, but rather to represent those who “stand for moral principles and values.”[17] Yet year after year, Republican politicians travel to FOF’s Colorado Springs campus, attempting to curry favor with Dobson. Almost as regularly, Dobson threatens to punish the GOP for failing to be sufficiently committed to his ultraconservative agenda on such social issues as abortion, gay rights, and the separation of church and state. But Dobson has had some success with shaping his coverage in the media; scarcely an election cycle goes by without another profile portraying Dobson as a reluctant warrior newly entering the world of politics.[18]

This white paper briefly examines the growing political power of Dobson, a cultural icon in the ultra-conservative evangelical community and an increasingly aggressive power broker in Republican Party politics.


Dobson is particularly concerned with schools in states with “safe schools” legislation intended to prohibit discrimination against homosexuality. He has mentioned eight states — Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington, Wisconsin, and Vermont — plus the District of Columbia as being particularly worrisome. Regarding public schools and the “homosexual movement,” Dobson said, “It isn’t just California that has drifted into this dangerous stuff. This is where we are, especially on both coasts, but to some degree throughout the nation.”

It Begins With a Dare

Dobson was born in Louisiana, and grew up in Oklahoma and Texas. In his early years, he followed his traveling evangelist parents to revival meetings in small southwestern towns. Dobson says he became a born-again Christian at age three at a church service conducted by his father, a Nazarene minister. He attended Pasadena College and received a Ph.D. in child development from the University of Southern California in 1967.[19]

While teaching at USC, he wrote Dare to Discipline, the book that ultimately made him famous. The book was controversial because of Dobson’s glowing endorsement of corporal punishment. It has sold more than 3.5 million copies[20] since its release in 1970. One apparent reason for the book’s initial popularity was the attractiveness of its authoritarian message at a time when many parents were in the market for a style of parenting that would respond to the perceived permissiveness of the 1960s. In one of his books, Dobson described this time as:

“social upheaval [with]… a sudden disintegration of the moral and ethical principles such as has never occurred in the history of mankind. All at once, there were no definite values. There were no standards. No absolutes. No rules. No traditional beliefs on which to lean.”

The success of his book prompted Dobson to leave his position as Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine to speak and write full time. He quickly discovered faster ways to reach a broad audience with his message. In 1977, Dobson persuaded Tyndale House Publishers to give him a $35,000 contribution to start Focus on the Family. In return, he offered them the right to publish his next book, The Strong-Willed Child. Dobson immediately set about the business of developing a radio program and persuading a string of stations to air the program. By March 1977, he was on the air with a weekly broadcast from Arcadia, California carried by 43 radio stations.

The following years were a period of explosive growth for Focus on the Family. It released its first film series and increased the weekly radio program to a daily program, first 15 minutes long, then 30 minutes. FOF opened its Canadian office and could be heard around the world via Armed Forces Radio Satellite. By 1984, FOF had 400 employees and a daily 30-minute program heard on 400 stations.

The Dobson Empire

In the intervening years, Dobson has built a colossal media empire. FOF is now located on an 81-acre campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado which has its own zip code, employs 1,300 people and sends out four million pieces of mail each month.[21] Dobson is heard daily on more than 3,000 radio facilities in North America and on approximately 6,300 facilities in 116 countries worldwide. His estimated listening audience is more than 200 million worldwide and, in the U.S., he appears on 80 television stations each day.[22]Meanwhile, news alerts go to 104,000 activists each day through Focus’ Citizen Link email service.[23]

Dobson has become a fixture on cable news shows, appearing regularly on such programs as CNN’s Larry King Live, Fox News’ Hannity and Colmes, and MSNBC’s Scarborough Country. During these appearances, Dobson mixes pointed political messages with folksy, almost grandfatherly, advice on parenting.

In addition to electronic media, Dobson’s views on family, politics, and culture are spread through a variety of print publications, including magazines aimed at each age group. In an effort to reach mainstream audiences, Dobson also produces a syndicated advice column.[24] Dobson’s books, most of which mix practical self-help advice with scripture and social commentary, have sold more than 12 million copies.[25] Titles include What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, Bringing Up Boys, When God Doesn’t Make Sense, and Parenting Isn’t For Cowards.

Turning Listeners Into Lobbyists

While Dobson’s early career truly did focus primarily on family life, he got a taste for political power in 1979. That year, President Jimmy Carter formed a White House Conference on the Family. On his radio program, Dobson announced that he wished to be a member of the advisory committee and before long, thousands of his supporters contacted the White House demanding Dobson’s inclusion.[26] Dobson would return to this strategy — using the platform afforded by his radio program to apply pressure on politicians and business leaders — frequently in years to come.

Throughout the ‘80s, Dobson was regularly tapped to join presidential advisory committees, including a panel on teen pregnancy prevention and Attorney General Edwin Meese’s Commission on Pornography.[27*]

In a demonstration of his increasing interest in public policy, in 1988, Dobson convinced FOF’s board to take over a small political advocacy group, the Family Research Council (FRC)[28]. After appointing former Reagan aide Gary Bauer as president, FRC became FOF’s lobbying arm for several years.

In 1992, due to Internal Revenue Service concerns about FOF’s lobbying activities, FRC, was spun off into an entirely separate organization.[29] Since the early 1990s, FRC has emerged as a leading right-wing think-tank championing so-called “traditional family values” by lobbying for state-sponsored prayer in public schools, private school vouchers, abstinence-only programs, filtering software on public library computers, and the right to discriminate against gay men and lesbians.

Bauer later asserted that, by separating FOF from FRC, Dobson was expressing distaste for political activism:

“He feels very strongly that when he talks about things like abortion and gay rights he is not involved in politics, that in fact he is engaged in a moral argument. For years, he has tried to make this distinction, because his critics accuse him of trying to be a political power broker within the Republican Party. Jim never wanted to be and never tried to be what Pat Robertson tried to be in the Republican Party.”[30]

Whether or not that statement was ever accurate, it certainly does not describe Dobson now. He took an active role in the 2004 Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania, campaigning fervently for right-wing Representative Pat Toomey[31], who gave Sen. Arlen Specter, loathed by the far right for his professed moderation, a serious challenge. In the general election, Dobson campaigned hard for Bush and for right-wing Senate candidates like Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. And he is not at all shy about threatening GOP officials who are not quick enough to fall in line.


Dobson has frequently attacked material he deems pornographic. He opposes funding by the National Endowment for the Arts of projects he considers obscene. And, in 1989, he conducted a death row interview with serial killer Ted Bundy. During the interview, Bundy claimed that pornography had helped to spur his crime spree. In an interesting twist, FOF marketed tapes of the interview for $25 apiece. After being accused of cashing in on the Bundy murders, Dobson indicated that the profits from the sales would go to anti-pornography groups. Similar questions were raised after Dobson’s ministry offered recordings of an interview with another serial killer, David Berkowitz (a.k.a. Son of Sam) on its web site for a $7 suggested donation.

Dobson and the GOP: When Is Far-Right Far Enough?

By the mid-1990s, Dobson had developed an intense — and sometimes strained — relationship with the Republican Party. In 1996, six contenders for the GOP presidential nomination visited the FOF campus in Colorado Springs, hoping to win Dobson’s support.[32] However, the nominee who emerged, Sen. Bob Dole, did not meet with Dobson’s approval. When Dole considered softening his party’s hard line stance on such social issues as abortion, Dobson drew a line in the sand. “There is very, very strong sentiment on this subject,” Dobson said, “and I think it is certain that there is going to be conflict out there, especially if Sen. Dole follows the path he is now on.”[33]

Ultimately, rather than support Dole, Dobson voted for Howard Phillips, the fringe nominee of the U.S. Taxpayer Party, saying “I voted for Howard Phillips …because he stands for the principles and the values that I believe in, and nobody else did.”[34] What are Phillips’ principles and values? Phillips has linked the deterioration of the family to the “liberation of the wife from the leadership of the husband,” urged the U.S. government to “send the United Nations packing,” suggested that the Clintons were guilty of murder, and likened Ronald Reagan’s dealings with the Soviet Union to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Nazi Germany.[35] He advocates abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and entirely privatizing Social Security.[36] Phillips, who considers homosexual acts to be “an abomination in the sight of God,” believes “[e]very hospital, every private business, every property owner, every school” should have the right to require HIV tests “from people who seek to use its facilities.”[37]

The Dole split proved to be only the first in a series of fallings out between Dobson and the GOP. In 1998, in a speech before the Council for National Policy, Dobson described his frustrations with the Republicans in the starkest terms yet:

“Does the Republican Party want our votes — no strings attached — to court us every two years, and then say, ‘Don’t call me. I’ll call you.’ And to not care about the moral law of the universe. Is that what they want? Is that the way the system works? Is this the way it’s going to be? If it is, I’m gone, and if I go, I will do everything I can to take as many people with me as possible.”[38]

Dobson warned that he would use his radio empire as much as legally possible to deliver his message to the Republicans.[39] In response to Dobson’s complaints, then-Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson met with so-called pro-family groups. Dobson toured Washington, visiting Congressional leaders, and in a letter to longtime political ally then-Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) listed his legislative demands, which included: cutting off government funding to Planned Parenthood and other “pro-abortion organizations,” eliminating “so-called safe-sex and condom distribution programs,” passing parental consent laws pertaining to both abortion and contraception, banning human cloning, ending funding of fetal tissue research programs, and defunding the National Endowment for the Arts. He also voiced support for government funding of religious education via school vouchers, the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, and a ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion.”[40]

In a reflection of just how much influence Dobson held at this point, the GOP vowed to hold floor votes on the issues he raised.[41]

That same year, Dobson offered his personal endorsement and appeared in a radio commercial supporting Randall Terry, [42] the founder of the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Terry was running for a seat in the US House of Representatives. Terry is a fanatic who, during a 1989 protest in front of a Boulder, Colorado family health clinic, prayed for the assassination of the clinic’s doctor.[43] In one speech, Terry was explicit: “When I or people like me are running the country, [abortion providers] better flee because we will find you, we will try you, and we will execute you.”[44] During his 1998 campaign, Terry advocated abolition of property taxes, the federal income tax, and Social Security.[45]He described his Democratic opponent as a “hard core pro-death leader” and a “leader of a growing number of treacherous politicians who support special rights for militant sodomites.”[46] After losing the Republican Party primary, Terry ran in the general election on the Right-to-Life ticket[47] where he garnered 7 percent of the vote.[48]

During the 2000 election cycle, Dobson chose not to endorse a presidential candidate, even though his longtime associate, Gary Bauer, was in the running for the Republican nomination.[49] This is not to say that Dobson sat out the election altogether. He had some very unflattering things to say concerning GOP hopeful Sen. John McCain, primarily because the Senator refused to provide assurances that he would choose an anti-abortion running mate and Supreme Court nominees.[50] In addition, Dobson expressed distaste for then-Gov. George Bush’s compassionate conservative rhetoric.

“Bush’s advisers are telling him he can have it all — the big tent — which I don’t believe works in this culture. The strategists have concluded that…they can hold onto the conservative Christians and get the mushy middle at the same time. I don’t believe you can do it.”[51]

He also warned Republicans against removing anti-abortion language from the party platform, once again threatening to bolt the party: “My interest in candidates of the Republican Party is dependent upon its continued support for the sanctity of life and the other moral issues of great concern. If the pro-life plank is eliminated or amended, I’m gone.”[52]

Dobson is also an outspoken advocate for weakening the separation between church and state,[53] and a supporter of Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who was ousted from his seat after ignoring a federal court order to remove a massive granite monument to the Ten Commandments he installed in Alabama’s state judicial building. Moore has become a folk hero to Religious Right activists for using his powerful public position to promote his religious beliefs and for defying court orders to stop doing so. In August 2003, Dobson spoke at a rally in support of Moore, calling him “a wonderful man…who had the courage of his convictions to put it on the line.”[54] Moore, who also takes extremist positions on reproductive choice and gay rights — he once suggested that the state should execute gays[55] — is reportedly considering a run for Governor.

2004: Power and Prejudice

Dobson has likened the early political activities of Focus on the Family to guerrilla warfare. As one former FOF vice president put it, “He used to talk about us as a guerrilla artillery organization in the mountains, firing off little bombs now and then.”[56] If this was the case, Dobson’s 2004 political mobilization efforts were a true escalation — a frontal assault.

In May 2004, Dobson announced the formation of Focus on the Family Action, or Focus Action. In a letter to his supporters, Dobson explained that Focus Action had been created because the IRS and Congress were “choking [FOF’s] ability to stand up for what we believe” and that this new organization would have the freedom to “lobby for its core principles.”[57] As Focus Action was set up as a 501(c)(4) organization, it is able to have a greater role in political activities.[58]

Why did Dobson choose to so fully embrace politics in 2004? “There are dangers, and that is why I have never done it before,” he explained. “But the attack and assault on marriage is so distressing that I just feel like I can’t remain silent.”[59] The defining moments of this “assault” came in two court decisions, Lawrence v. Texas, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Texas anti-sodomy law and reversed its infamous Hardwick decision, and a November 2003 decision from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the state constitution.[60]

Dobson’s anti-gay positions are pervasive. He opposes anti-discrimination regulations[61]and called for a boycott of Proctor & Gamble when the company supported a Cincinnati ballot initiative to remove a discriminatory provision from the city charter.[62] In his 2004 book Marriage Under Fire, Dobson likens proponents of gay marriage to the Nazis: “Like Adolf Hitler, who overran his European neighbors, those who favor homosexual marriage are determined to make it legal, regardless of the democratic processes that stand in their way.”[63] Further, he claims that the “homosexual activist movement [is] working to implement a master plan that has as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family.” According to Dobson, the goals of the homosexual movement include:

“universal acceptance of the gay lifestyle, the discrediting of Scriptures that condemn homosexuality, muzzling of the clergy and Christian media, granting special privileges and rights in the law, overturning laws prohibiting pedophilia, indoctrination of children and future generations through public education, and securing all the legal benefits of marriage for any two or more people who claim to have homosexual tendencies.”[64]

In Dobson’s view, legalizing marriage for same-sex couples would result in a slippery slope: “How about group marriage? Or marriage between daddies and little girls? How about marriage between a man and his donkey?”[65]

Dobson’s “first objective”[66] became amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gay marriage, and legislation designed to do just that had already been proposed in the House and Senate.

On eight occasions in the run up to the July 14, 2004 Senate cloture vote, Dobson used his radio program to trumpet the importance of the so-called “Federal Marriage Amendment.”[67] In one instance, he read out the names of all uncommitted Senators and urged listeners to call them “until the switchboard smokes.” Although his program is normally financed by Focus on the Family, in this case, due to the explicitly political slant of this particular broadcast, Focus Action paid for it.[68] Two weeks prior to the vote, Focus Action’s public policy staff contacted all uncommitted Senators, warning them that Dobson supporters would be notified via radio and letter of all FMA opponents.[69] Alerts regarding the vote were regularly sent to 104,000 email activists as well as the 1.25 million listeners of FOF’s “Family News in Focus” daily radio program.

In addition, full-page ads were placed in hometown papers of fifteen Senate opponents of FMA. The ads, which featured a melancholy-looking freckle-faced boy, asked: “Why Doesn’t Senator [insert name] Believe Every Child Needs a Mother and Father?” Among those targeted by the ads was then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.[70] Dobson seemed particularly intent on damaging Daschle — who was locked in a close reelection battle. Dobson blamed Daschle for leading Democratic resistance to a handful of President Bush’s most extreme judicial nominations.[71]

Ultimately, despite the unrelenting efforts of Dobson and Focus Action, opponents of FMA blocked a final vote in the Senate. An effort to stop the filibuster failed by 48 to 50 with 60 votes needed to end debate. Following the vote, Focus Action issued another set of full-page newspaper ads. These featured a very cross-looking little boy and the headline “Shame on you, Senator.” Despite losing the Senate vote, Dobson argued that Focus Action’s efforts helped to ensure that the marriage issue was uppermost in people’s minds going into the November elections.[72]

Focus Action also brought the fight to the state level, supporting efforts in eleven states to add prohibitions against gay marriage to their constitutions. Thousands of Dobson-penned letters in support of the marriage amendments were sent to each state and Dobson frequently plugged the amendments on his radio show. Focus Action coordinated signature gathering efforts in five states, and even provided cash donations for anti-gay marriage drives in Michigan and Oregon. All eleven ballot measures were ultimately successful.[73]

While Focus Action did the overtly political work, Dobson, through Focus on the Family, went in search of the oft-cited millions of evangelical Christians that Bush advisor Karl Rove claimed failed to show up at the polls in 2000. Dobson presented his message as a “call to Christian duty.” In an October broadcast of his Focus on the Family radio program he said:

“Do you know that in the year 2000, four million evangelicals did not go to the polls? Do you know that more than 25 million Christians of various stripes — Catholics, mainline, other perspectives — did not register and did not vote? That is an outrage. And it must not happen again.”[74]

Focus on the Family partnered with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) to develop the iVoteValues.com voter awareness and registration initiative, which worked to make “biblical values” central to the voting habits of evangelicals.[75] Ultimately, Focus on the Family sent out 1.3 million registration kits modeled on those distributed by the Southern Baptist Convention.[76]

The Senate as Means to an End

One of Dobson’s expressed aims for 2004 was to swell the “ranks of social conservatives” in the Senate, so as to build “more backbone in that chamber to stand tough on godly issues” such as marriage[77] and to encourage the confirmation of far-right judges. Through a convoluted leap of logic, Dobson argued that the Massachusetts gay marriage decision came about in part due to a failure on the U.S. Senate’s part to rein in an “imperious” judiciary. During the October Mayday for Marriage rally on the Mall in Washington, DC, Dobson explained to tens of thousands of supporters[78] how marriage could be saved and the judiciary cleansed by means of housecleaning in the Senate:

“We can’t get our hands on the courts…they’re out of reach. They’re unaccountable. They’re un-elected. They’re arrogant. They’re independent. They are imperious and they think they rule this country….We can’t reach the court, but we can reach the Senate, and we can do that on November the second. I urge you to remember in November….We must change the make-up of the Senate. We must get the Senate to limit the power of the court, one way or another. We must turn out the vote.”[79]

Dobson’s lobbying on proposals to restrict marriage were often tied to his efforts to elect far-right Senate candidates and defeat moderate or progressive candidates.

In addition to radio broadcasts, emails, and ads, Dobson headlined a number of “Stand for the Family” rallies in the months leading up to the elections. The states in which these events were held — Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Dakota — all featured Democrat-held Senate seats that were being vigorously contested by right-wing Republicans. Daschle was a particular target, along with seats vacated by retiring Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) and vice presidential nominee John Edwards (D-NC). The advertising for these rallies took on an overtly political tone:

“It’s time to take a Stand for the Family. Plan to attend these vitally important rallies with Dr. James Dobson and special guests — you’ll learn about what’s at stake this election and get equipped to fight for critical issues that will protect the family!”

Along with Dobson, the meetings featured Family Research Council President Tony Perkins as well as Dobson’s former colleague, Gary Bauer, who now heads American Values. Many rally-goers received free copies of Dobson’s Marriage Under Fire. Participants were encouraged to place inserts concerning the rallies in their church bulletins and to attend get-out-the vote workshops prior to the main event.[80]

Dobson mailed letters comparing the position of Senate candidates in several states. Again, his choice of targets is instructive. In addition to the states visited in the “Stand for Family” rallies, letters went to potential voters in four other states where Democrats were locked in tight struggles against right-wing GOP candidates: Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. In November, the Republicans won all of these contests save one — Colorado. In a post-election victory message from Focus Action, Dobson claimed credit for all these victories. He seemed to particularly savor Daschle’s defeat, which he said “rocked the political world.”[81]

It should be noted that even minor ideological deviations can mean missing out on Dobson’s endorsement. For example, Dobson supported former Congressman Bob Schaffer over Peter Coors in Colorado’s 2004 GOP Senate primary, despite the fact that Schaffer and Coors had almost identical stands on the issues. According to Tom Minnery, head of public policy at Focus on the Family, Coors failed to get Dobson’s nod due in part to the fact that his company, Coors Brewing Co., provides health benefits to same-sex partners. Although Coors supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, “it’s a little bit less reassuring to know that he’s got a very gay-friendly company,” said Minnery.[82]

Dobson also gave personal support to several GOP Senatorial candidates, including the Party’s standard bearers in Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and South Dakota.[83] It is perhaps unsurprising that these are many of the same states that were targeted by the Stand for Family rallies, Focus Action mailings, and full-page FMA advertisements. All of these candidates won in November.

Among the candidates Dobson worked hard to elect was Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn. At a meeting of GOP leaders this spring, Coburn had this to say about the so-called “gay agenda”: “The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power … That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That’s a gay agenda.”[84] A speech delivered by Dobson in support of Coburn expressed the issue in equally stark terms: “Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage…. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.”[85]

Celebrations and Threats

In a statement from Focus Action immediately following the November election results, Dobson struck a triumphant tone. Although Focus Action had been prohibited from explicitly endorsing President Bush, Dobson’s statement left little doubt of his organization’s pleasure at the prospect of four more years:

“This election is a resounding victory in the battle for American families. We applaud the re-election of President Bush, who has shown himself a true champion for the family and of traditional values. Those who care deeply about the moral issues facing this nation have cause to be encouraged by the prospect of the Bush administration promoting policies supportive of these values throughout his second term.”[86]

However, the blush was soon off the rose. Four days after his statement praising President Bush, Dobson took a more resigned tone, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I’m quite sure [Bush] will fail us. He doesn’t dance to our tune.” But, echoing past threats, Dobson warned Republicans that such failures would have consequences. Any backsliding on efforts to pass FMA, end abortion, prohibit stem cell research, or produce a far right Supreme Court would be punished:

“I think that this President has two years — or more broadly, the Republican party has two years to implement those policies or certainly four, or I believe they’ll pay a price at the — in the next election.”[87]

Ensuring the nomination and confirmation of right-wing judicial nominees has been high on Dobson’s list since the 2004 elections. In November, he and other Religious Right leaders worked to prevent Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-PA) ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. When Specter made the common sense observation that Senate Democrats had already filibustered some of the President’s more extreme nominees and so were likely to resist efforts to install anti-abortion Supreme Court appointees,[88] Dobson fumed that Specter was guilty of “arrogant grandstanding.”[89]Dobson complained that Specter was “a big-time problem for us, someone who must be derailed,”[90] but Specter kept his committee chairmanship after pledging to his colleagues to look favorably on President Bush’s nominees.

In January 2005, Dobson issued another threat, this one aimed at Senate Democrats. He promised “a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea” should the Democrats attempt to block right-wing judicial nominees via filibuster. He singled out five Senators whose terms end in 2006, warning that if they opposed Bush’s choices, “many of them will be in the ‘bull’s eye’ the next time they seek reelection.”[91]


James Dobson has spent thirty-five years building a media empire and a loyal following, and in recent years he has moved aggressively to put both in the service of a far-right political agenda. His increasingly successful efforts as a leading power broker working to move the Republican Party into an even closer embrace with the Religious Right political movement merit closer attention, because the agenda Dobson is promoting is at odds with cherished American ideals of individual liberty, separation of church and state, and an independent judiciary committed to upholding Americans rights and freedoms.



[1] Conan O’Brien, 1/22/05.
[2] Jill Serjeant, “U.S. Christians Issue Gay Warning Over Kid Video,” Reuters, 1/20/05.
[3] James Dobson, Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle, (Multnomah, 2004) p. 19.
[4] Ibid, p. 41.
[5] Robert Schlesinger, “Medicine Man,” Salon, 9/13/04, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/09/13/coburn
[6] Bill Sherman, “Commentator Gives Support to Coburn,” Tulsa World, 10/22/04.
[7] “Focus on the Family Broadcast to Feature Mel Gibson on the Stem-cell Ballot Issue,” Focus on the Family, 10/29/04.
[8] Ted Olsen, “Weblog: Dobson Again Calls for Parents to Pull Kids out of Public Schools,” Christianity Today, 7/9/02, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/126/22.0.html
[9] Bob Kellogg, “Prayer Amendment Effort Returns,” Family News in Focus, 2/21/02.
[10] James Dobson, “Restoring the Foundations: Repealing Judicial Tyranny,” 8/28/03, http://www.family.org/fmedia/misc/A0027564.cfm
[11] “Dobson’s Work Important During Election, But He’s Not Done,” Associated Press, 11/14/04.
[12] Alan Cooperman and Thomas B. Edsall, “Evangelicals Say They Led the Charge for the GOP,” Washington Post, 11/8/04, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A32793-2004Nov7.html
[13] Dwayne Hastings, “Focus on the Family Signs on to ERLC’s iVoteValues Initiative,” BP News, 8/12/04, http://www.baptistpress.com/bpnews.asp?ID=18853
[14] “Focus on the Family Action Update,” November 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/actionupdatenov04.pdf
[15] Paul Asay, “Focus’ Focus Is American Family; Political Activism a Small Part of Efforts, Founder Says,” The Gazette, 8/28/04.
[16] James Dobson, “A Message to the People of New York’s 26th Congressional District,” April 27, 1998; “Dobson, Reed Like Gex — But Bunning’s Unhappy, House Race Hotline, 4/30/98; “Dr. Dobson Endorses Schaffer,” 6/26/04; Patricia Poist, “Down to the Wire; With Election Day Near, James Dobson Comes Here to Support Pat Toomey for Senate, Stressing Toomey’s ‘Pro-Family’ Stance,” Lancaster New Era/Intelligencer Journal/Sunday News, 4/24/04.
[17] Fox News: Hannity & Colmes, 7/15/04.
[18] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Warily, a Religious Leader Lifts His Voice to Politics,” New York Times, 5/13/04; Dan Gilgoff, “The Dobson Way,” US News & World Report, 1/17/05, http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/050117/misc/17evangelicals.htm ; Laura Sessions Stepp, “The Empire Built on Family and Faith,” Washington Post, 8/8/90; Helen Parmley, “Reluctant ‘Rising Star,’” Dallas Morning News, 8/19/89; Dale Buss, “Paterfamilias of Family Values,” Wall Street Journal, 10/17/88.
[19] People For the American Way, “Focus on the Family: Extremism Cloaked in the Rhetoric of Family Values,” 1993.
[20] Per the front cover of The New Dare to Discipline, http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0842305068/ref=sib_dp_pt/103-3681628-8989452#reader-link
[21] David Kelly, “In Colorado, a Wellspring of Conservative Christianity,” Los Angeles Times, 7/6/04.
[22] “Right Wing Organizations: Focus on the Family,” People For the American Way Foundation, 1/04, http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=4257

[23] “Focus on the Family Action Update,” November 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/actionupdatenov04.pdf
[24] Patrick Kampert, “James Dobson the Empire Builder,” Chicago Tribune,z 7/14/02.
[25] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Warily, a Religious Leader Lifts His Voice to Politics,” New York Times, 5/13/04.
[26] Laura Sessions Stepp, “The Empire Built on Family and Faith,” Washington Post, 8/8/90.
[27] ibid.
[28] ibid.
[29] “Right Wing Organizations: Family Research Council,” People For the American Way Foundation, December, 2003, http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=4211
[30] Nina J. Easton, “The Power and the Glory,” American Prospect, 5/20/02, http://www.prospect.org/print/V13/9/easton-n.html
[31] Patricia Poist, “Down to the Wire; With Election Day Near, James Dobson Comes Here to Support Pat Toomey for Senate, Stressing Toomey’s ‘Pro-Family’ Stance,” Lancaster New Era/Intelligencer Journal/Sunday News, 4/24/04.
[32] Patrick Kampert, “James Dobson the Empire Builder,” Chicago Tribune, 7/14/02.
[33] Pete Winn, “Dr. Dobson Speaks to the Council for National Policy,” Family News in Focus, 1998.
[34] From a 1998 speech to the Council for National Policy. See: http://www.buildingequality.us/ifas/cnp/dobson.html
[35] “To the Right, Roy Moore Is a Justice for All,” People For the American Way Foundation, August 2003
[36] “Presidential Candidates,” The Gazette, 10/22/00.
[37] Howard Phillips, “AIDS: Protect the Innocent,” Washington Post, 6/19/87.
[38] “FOF’s James Dobson: A Rogue Elephant in the GOP ‘Big Tent,’” Church & State, March 1998.
[39] ibid.
[40] Benjamin Domenech, “Dobson’s Choice: Why the Conservative Outsider’s Agenda Worries GOP Leaders,” Washington Post, 4/19/98.
[41] Ralph Z. Hallow, “GOP Vows to Push Religious-Right Issues,” Washington Times, 4/10/98.
[42] Randall Terry for Congress, campaign letter dated May 24, 1998.
[43] John M. Swomley, “The Run of Whose Life?” Humanist, 5/1/98.
[44] David Corn, “Faith and Commandments on the Campaign Trail,” The Nation, 9/28/98.
[45] David Corn, “Faith and Commandments on the Campaign Trail,” The Nation, 9/28/98.
[46] John M. Swomley, “The Run of Whose Life?” Humanist, 5/1/98.
[47] Rachel Van Dongen, “Give Them Liberty… Despite Setbacks, Terry Says Battle Just Beginning,” Roll Call,
[48] “Election 98: New Yorks’ Representatives,” Newsday, 11/5/98
[49] Eric Gorski, “Focus on Issues: Abortion Is Key, Dobson Warns Bush,” Gazette, 5/25/00.
[50] Susan Jones, “Conservative Critics Raise Their Voices Against McCain,” CNS News, 2/18/00.
[51] John Harwood, “Focus on Family Leader Dobson Emerges at Christian Right’s Most Powerful Voice,” Wall Street Journal, 5/26/00.
[52] John Gizzi, “Conservatives Vow to Protect Pro-Life Plank,” Human Events, 5/5/00.
[53] Gary Schneeberger, “Dobson Tells Christian Voters ‘Enough is Enough,’” Citizen Link, 9/7/04, http://www.family.org/cforum/extras/a0033582.cfm
[54] James Dobson, “Restoring the Foundations: Repealing Judicial Tyranny,” 8/28/03, http://www.family.org/fmedia/misc/A0027564.cfm
[55] “Alabama Chief Justice Unfit for Office,” People For the American Way Foundation, 2/22/02
[56] Laura Sessions Stepp, The Empire Built on Family & Faith,” Washington Post, 8/8/90.
[57] James Dobson, “First Objective: Pass the Federal Marriage Amendment!” July 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/articles/A0000015.cfm
[58] Eric Gorski, “Dobson Shifts Power to Focus on Politics,” Denver Post, 11/14/04, http://www.denverpost.com/framework/0,1413,36~11676~2534210,00.html
[59] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Warily, a Religious Leader Lifts His Voice in Politics,” New York Times, 5/13/04.
[60] Pete Winn, “Gay ‘Marriage’ OK’d by Massachusetts Court,” CitizenLink, 11/19/03, http://www.family.org/cforum/feature/a0028895.cfm.
[61] Peter Winn, “Contentious Bills Await Returning Congress,” CitizenLink, 8/31/01, http://www.family.org/cforum/feature/a0017443.cfm
[62] “Focus on the Family Urges Procter & Gamble Boycott,” Focus on the Family, 9/16/04, http://www.family.org/welcome/press/a0033732.cfm
[63] James Dobson, Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle, (Multnomah, 2004) p. 41.
[64] Ibid, p. 19, emphasis added.
[65] Ibid, p. 49.
[66] James Dobson, “First Objective: Pass the Federal Marriage Amendment!” July 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/articles/A0000015.cfm
[67] “Focus on the Family Action Update,” November 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/actionupdatenov04.pdf
[68] Michael Foust, “Dobson on FMA: Call Senators ‘until the switchboard smokes,’” 7/7/04, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=18638
[69] “Focus on the Family Action Update,” November 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/actionupdatenov04.pdf
[70] James Dobson, “First Objective: Pass the Federal Marriage Amendment!” July 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/articles/A0000015.cfm ; “Focus on the Family Action Takes on Swing State Senators over FMA,” http://www.focusaction.org/activities/a0000010.cfm ; Sample ad: http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/SouthDakotaFMA.pdf
[71] “Dobson Praises Election Triumphs for the Family,” Focus on the Family Action, 11/3/04, http://www.focusaction.org/press/a0000040.cfm
[72] “Focus on the Family Action Update,” November 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/actionupdatenov04.pdf
[73] ibid.
[74] “Dr. James Dobson Calls Pro-Family America to the Polls,” Focus on the Family, 10/14/04, http://www.family.org/welcome/press/a0034114.cfm
[75] Dwayne Hastings, “Focus on the Family Signs on to ERLC’s iVoteValues Initiative,” BP News, 8/12/04, http://www.baptistpress.com/bpnews.asp?ID=18853
[76] Judith Kohler, “Ministry Head Pushes Christians to Vote,” Associated Press, 10/30/04; “Focus on the Family Action Update,” November 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/actionupdatenov04.pdf
[77] “Focus on the Family Action Update,” November 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/actionupdatenov04.pdf
[78] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Rally Against Gay Marriage Draws Thousands to the Capital,” New York Times, 10/16/04.
[79] “Right Wing Watch Online 2004: October: Mayday for Marriage,” People For the American Way Foundation, 10/1/04.
[80] “2004 Stand for the Family Rallies,” Focus on the Family Action, 6/21/04, http://www.focusaction.org/activities/a0000004.cfm / Sample flyer: http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/SDArenaBulletinBW.pdf
[81] “Focus on the Family Action Update,” November 2004, http://www.focusaction.org/pdfs/actionupdatenov04.pdf
[82] Gwen Florio, “Schaffer Gaining More Support from Conservatives,” Rocky Mountain News, 6/29/04.
[83] Eric Goreski, “Dobson Shifts Power to Focus on the Politics,” Denver Post, 11/14/04, http://www.denverpost.com/framework/0,1413,36~11676~2534210,00.html
[84] Robert Schlesinger, “Medicine Man,” Salon, 9/13/04.
[85] Carmel Perez Snyder, “Marriage, Family Advocate to Support Coburn,” The Oklahoman, 10/23/04, http://www.newsok.com/electok/article/1345390. Emphasis added.
[86] “Dobson Praises Election Triumphs for the Family,” Focus on the Family Action, 11/3/04, http://www.focusaction.org/press/a0000040.cfm
[87] “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” ABC News, 11/7/04. See also: David D. Kirkpatrick, “Some Backers of Bush Say They Anticipate a ‘Revolution,’” New York Times, 11/4/04.
[88] “Key GOP Senator Warns Bush on Judicial Choices,” Associated Press, 11/4/04, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6405485/
[89] “Dobson Blasts Sen. Specter’s ‘Arrogant Grandstanding,’” Focus on the Family Action, 11/4/04, http://www.focusaction.org/press/a0000042.cfm
[90] “Profile: Expectations of Evangelical Christians on the Heels of President Bush’s Re-Election,” NPR: Day to Day, 11/11/04.
[91] David Kirkpatrick, “Evangelical Leader Threatens to Use His Political Muscle Against Some Democrats,” New York Times, 1/4/05.