The Venn Diagram of people who respect former Majority Leader Dick Armey and the people who respect James Dobson is two circles with considerable overlap. It get’s my attention when one goes after the other in print.
Armey’s complaint about Dobson is that he has moved from being an advocate to being a power broker. Instead of highlighting issues and encouraging his people to go out and get involved, Dobson is going to politicians and saying “you had better deliver for my people.” I haven’t read Dobson’s response, so I won’t pass judgement whether this is so, or just some peevishness and over-interpretation by Armey.
I accept that such things are possible, however, if not by Dobson than by someone similarly situated. It is something I have worried about the Christian Right – of which I am one – for over a decade. Being a power bloc in a party is a recipe for leaders having lots of power, the rank-and-file having none. As an example, look at the lack of power the average African-American has in the Democratic Party, while a few prominent black leaders have a lot of clout. The idea that “we have to band together to have influence” is a plausible and a seductive one, but doesn’t seem to hold up well in reality.
Glenn Reynold’s book An Army of Davids captures more exactly the power of groups. They can form around issues quickly, adapt quickly, and disperse quickly, maintained later by weaker ties. That is the model that Christians in politics should be using. Becoming a bloc increases temptations to pride, arrogance, vengeance, and all kinds of corruption. And it doesn’t work. The initial swarming works, and that can be resummoned for other issues. But when a movement starts to get that move-in-formation, show-our-power mode, its influence starts to wane. The waning may be slow in coming – groups tend to wield a lot of negative power, power to harm the opposition long after they have lost any positive influence (see NAACP, Unions).
If the trend is real, I will recommend for evangelicals the same strategy I have been recommending for African-Americans: change your party affiliation to Independent. Remaining in the party gives the status of wife. Being outside the party gives the status of girlfriend. Both have their own sorts of influence. But when you're reduced to mistress, it's time to get some distance. We're not there yet. But I'm watching.
Update: A well-argued contrary view can be found here.