Monday, October 30, 2006

Armey Vs. Dobson

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.


Anonymous said...

What, you don't remember that Biblical passage, "Blessed are the power brokers for they shall inherit... (fill in the blanks)? I'm not always in full agreement with Dick Armey but Dobson does make me increasingly nervous with his political activity and his appearances on cable news. It reminds me of the rise of the politically ambitious Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the 1980s. Ugh. Please don't let me hear of a draft "Dobson in 08" movement in our primary state (NH). Please.

Bird Dog said...

In many states, you cannot vote in primaries without being registered in that party. This makes good sense: who wants unaffiliated people electing candidates in your party?
Thus registering as "independent" means that you only can make one final choice, instead of first participating in selecting the final choice.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

In NH you can choose either if you're an Independent, which makes a switch to that category more palatable. Voting in the primaries is part of the "wife" category of influence, and not to be sneered at. For those who are in such states, changing affiliation would have a higher threshhold, wouldn't it?

terri said...

While I think Dobson is to be admired for his efforts to help maintain the family strucuture in our increasingly fractured society, I must say that it repels me when christian leaders become too entangled with politics and the Republican party. Our primary focus is, and always should be, Christ.

We just received the latest newsletter from Dobson this week and I wanted to burn it. It is basically a defense of the war in Iraq and full of doomsday predictions about what will happen if the Democrats take over DC. This political pandering and incitement of fear is always a burr in the side of thinking christians.

I am so tired of christians staunchly clinging to the Republican party as some kind of anoited leadership. In many ways they are no better than Democrats...and yes I am a registered Republican. I would be Independent, but here in Florida that would exclude the primary voting.

Anonymous said...

"Bless me Dobson, for I have sinned. I am a closet libertarian. What's that? Five, 'Hail to the Chief's' and $50 to the Republican Congressional Committee?"

Okay, no, I'm not really that cynical. I like Dr. Dobson. He has a lot of good things to say. I agree, I am a little concerned about some of the "power plays" that he has tried lately. But I have no evidence that he is walking outside of the Lord's commands to him. Time will tell.

On the subject of "political blocs", I believe that the MSM and liberals have tried to cast the Republican party as the party of "hardcore Christians", not Christians themselves. The irony is, this characterization has pulled some into the Republican party, and energized a good portion of Christians for Republicans causes. (I know of at least one hard-core Republican that was once a hard-core Democrat, until he found himself on the wrong side of the MSM's manufactured "Christian divide." It made him think about the actual moral implications of the platforms for each party. He switched parties soon after.)

The Founding Fathers certainly did not expect us to separate religion and politics. Every decision that government makes has a moral implication. We can't get around that. So it is obvious for those of us who have the most interest in this country maintaining its moral underpinnings should be very active in electing those who agree with us. Dobson may be just doing that.


Anonymous said...

As more and more politicians move to the center, it will be more likely to run into a pro-life Democrat running against a pro-choice Republican. I would be interested to see how Dobson would react to that. I know I would vote for the Democrat.


Anonymous said...

I'm a Republican and pleased that for the most part the party does reflect Christian values. But I thought I'd share one of my favorite quotes to keep things in perspective:
"My wife and I just came back from a trip overseas visiting missionary bases and it opened our eyes to a couple of facts. One of them: God's not an American -- He's not even a Republican!" The late Christian musician and song writer, Keith Green.

bs king said...

Dobson moved from annoying to downright scary in my book when I read a piece he wrote for on gay marriage. Now, my own views aside, I was utterly appalled that he spent the first 3/4 of the article defending his stance politically. He actually was making the majority=morality arguement! He actually said "it's wrong because most Americans think it is". I ran it by several friends more conservative than myself, and they were possibly more enraged than I was. A well reasoned Christian view point I can respect, but a man speaking from his position as a Christian, and using an incredibly watery arguement to boot is intolerable.