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Topic: James Dobson

Billy Graham and the Temptations of Politics

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies. Read More

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies.

The writer Sheldon Vanauken has written about the fine line between zeal and anger. Admitting that he was caught up in the mood and action of the 1960s, Vanauken wrote that Jesus, he thought, would surely have him oppose what appeared to him to be an unjust war (Vietnam). “But the movement,” Vanauken conceded, “whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating.” And Jesus, he said, was gradually pushed to the rear. “Movement goals, not God, became first.” Vanauken admitted that that is not quite what God had in mind.

In 1951, Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis the title of Commander of the British Empire, a high and appropriate distinction. But Lewis refused the honor. “I feel greatly obligated to the Prime Minister,” he responded, “and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always, however, knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.”

In his own way, what Graham is saying, I think, is that he wishes he had followed the Lewis example. I can understand why. For those of us who claim the title Christian, faith should always be more important than politics. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be involved in politics; it simply means we should do so with care, with wisdom, with our eyes wide open.

The City of Man may be our residence for now, but the City of God is our home.

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The Other Sign It’s Silly Season

As John pointed out, it is not a very productive exercise to speculate about John McCain’s VP picks this far in advance. But journalists run out of things to write about and it’s an easy topic. The other easy one: finding aggrieved anti-McCain conservatives. Or ones who aren’t all that aggrieved, but who won’t say they are perfectly satisfied with McCain.

Stories like this only require a phone call to James Dobson, who is always good for some anti-McCain quotes (though he apparently is inching closer to McCain, according to another outlet), and to others, whose encouraging comments about McCain’s outreach to conservatives (“the process has begun”) are construed as somehow indicating disapproval. The relevance and king-making importance of Dobson’s opinion is never questioned, of course. Yet hasn’t the candidate he despises won the nomination?

The fact that a large number of Democrats indicate in polls they will defect to McCain if their choice doesn’t get the nomination and that McCain enjoys greater support among his party’s voters than do either of his opponents doesn’t quite jibe with the storyline. Nevermind. It would be a non-story to report that Republicans are unifying behind McCain just as they did with other nominees in prior elections. It’s newsier to find conservatives who would like McCain to do “more” for them–no matter how much this skews the picture.

As John pointed out, it is not a very productive exercise to speculate about John McCain’s VP picks this far in advance. But journalists run out of things to write about and it’s an easy topic. The other easy one: finding aggrieved anti-McCain conservatives. Or ones who aren’t all that aggrieved, but who won’t say they are perfectly satisfied with McCain.

Stories like this only require a phone call to James Dobson, who is always good for some anti-McCain quotes (though he apparently is inching closer to McCain, according to another outlet), and to others, whose encouraging comments about McCain’s outreach to conservatives (“the process has begun”) are construed as somehow indicating disapproval. The relevance and king-making importance of Dobson’s opinion is never questioned, of course. Yet hasn’t the candidate he despises won the nomination?

The fact that a large number of Democrats indicate in polls they will defect to McCain if their choice doesn’t get the nomination and that McCain enjoys greater support among his party’s voters than do either of his opponents doesn’t quite jibe with the storyline. Nevermind. It would be a non-story to report that Republicans are unifying behind McCain just as they did with other nominees in prior elections. It’s newsier to find conservatives who would like McCain to do “more” for them–no matter how much this skews the picture.

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This Takes The Cake

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has decided to endorse Mike Huckabee in a truly senseless gesture, the timing of which can only be compared to the Battle of New Orleans. (Didn’t he hear the war is over?) Just to be clear: Huckabee has 196 delegates of a required 1191. There are approximately 1165 delegates (actually fewer since California and Illinois delegates are not yet fully allocated) still outstanding. (Huckabee is not likely to get more than 85% of the remaining delegates, you think?) Coming after McCain’s remarkably successful CPAC speech and just before President Bush’s expected nod to the new nominee, the decision to endorse a man perhaps even less beloved than McCain among the conservative base will, I think, be largely ignored, if not mocked. (The anti-Coulter chorus is growing so he will have stiff competition in the voting for “least sensible conservative in a comedy” category.)

As with the anti-McCain talk show hatred-fest, the decision reveals far more about the intentions and priorities of the aggrieved McCain opponent than of the relative merits of either Huckabee or McCain. A Dobson-Coulter ticket is the next logical step. (I will leave for others to explain why Dobson, who played footsie with Romney for months on a possible endorsement, did not give support months ago to the one candidate who could have beaten McCain. On this score Romney has every right to be peeved.)

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has decided to endorse Mike Huckabee in a truly senseless gesture, the timing of which can only be compared to the Battle of New Orleans. (Didn’t he hear the war is over?) Just to be clear: Huckabee has 196 delegates of a required 1191. There are approximately 1165 delegates (actually fewer since California and Illinois delegates are not yet fully allocated) still outstanding. (Huckabee is not likely to get more than 85% of the remaining delegates, you think?) Coming after McCain’s remarkably successful CPAC speech and just before President Bush’s expected nod to the new nominee, the decision to endorse a man perhaps even less beloved than McCain among the conservative base will, I think, be largely ignored, if not mocked. (The anti-Coulter chorus is growing so he will have stiff competition in the voting for “least sensible conservative in a comedy” category.)

As with the anti-McCain talk show hatred-fest, the decision reveals far more about the intentions and priorities of the aggrieved McCain opponent than of the relative merits of either Huckabee or McCain. A Dobson-Coulter ticket is the next logical step. (I will leave for others to explain why Dobson, who played footsie with Romney for months on a possible endorsement, did not give support months ago to the one candidate who could have beaten McCain. On this score Romney has every right to be peeved.)

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Romney’s Dilemma

Mitt Romney’s campaign would love nothing better than for the Republican base to follow the direction of many of the talk show hosts and conservative opinion makers who despise McCain. But not really. The trap he is in is this: the McCain haters (like Ann Coulter) say that McCain is so bad Republicans should not support him if he is the nominee. Romney can’t and won’t say that. So he winds up having to disavow his new best friends.

It happened again today. The Romney team sent around a clip of James Dobson, the leader of Focus on the Family, being interviewed by Laura Ingraham (she also has been tearing into McCain for, among other things, changing his position on embryonic stem cell research). Dobson ripped into McCain on stem cell research, the Gang of 14, and the like and concluded : “Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down. I cannot, and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.” (He clarifies that he would simply not vote, rather than vote for the Democratic nominee.)

I asked Romney spokesman Kevin Madden if by sending the email around he was encouraging others to follow Dobson’s lead. Apparently not. He responded: “Gov. Romney has said he will support the Republican nominee.” So what really is the point? It is fairly plain: to scare conservatives and to ingratiate himself with his base, the angry talk show set.

And on the other Romney gaffe of the day, he apparently did try to call Bob Dole. I assume it was to apologize and not to say ” And I really meant you’re the last guy I’d want supporting me!”

Mitt Romney’s campaign would love nothing better than for the Republican base to follow the direction of many of the talk show hosts and conservative opinion makers who despise McCain. But not really. The trap he is in is this: the McCain haters (like Ann Coulter) say that McCain is so bad Republicans should not support him if he is the nominee. Romney can’t and won’t say that. So he winds up having to disavow his new best friends.

It happened again today. The Romney team sent around a clip of James Dobson, the leader of Focus on the Family, being interviewed by Laura Ingraham (she also has been tearing into McCain for, among other things, changing his position on embryonic stem cell research). Dobson ripped into McCain on stem cell research, the Gang of 14, and the like and concluded : “Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down. I cannot, and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.” (He clarifies that he would simply not vote, rather than vote for the Democratic nominee.)

I asked Romney spokesman Kevin Madden if by sending the email around he was encouraging others to follow Dobson’s lead. Apparently not. He responded: “Gov. Romney has said he will support the Republican nominee.” So what really is the point? It is fairly plain: to scare conservatives and to ingratiate himself with his base, the angry talk show set.

And on the other Romney gaffe of the day, he apparently did try to call Bob Dole. I assume it was to apologize and not to say ” And I really meant you’re the last guy I’d want supporting me!”

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Left and Right

Broadly speaking, the political mood of the public can be gauged in terms of its shifting calculation of risk and reward. If, as in the period from about 1980 to 2004, the promise of new rewards outweighs the fears of accompanying risk, the market-oriented Republicans will be the beneficiaries. But if, as in the period from 1932 to 1966, the fear of risk is more salient than the hope of enhanced rewards, the result will be movement away from free-market policies and towards the presumed protections of government regulation.

For all its benefits, globalization (and the accompanying issues of massive illegal immigration) has brought to an end the period that privileged risk over reward. The Republican Party seems unable to face up to this shift. Some of my GOP friends blame it all on Bush. They rail at the failings of the Bush administration with the kind of vitriol usually reserved for leftists. Others, taken aback by the plunge in Republican party identification, trot out consoling ploys along the lines of “You should have seen the other guy!” Take, for example, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. While he acknowledges the unpopularity of the GOP, after a wave of scandals, the setbacks in Iraq, etc., he also emphasizes the misfortunes of the Democrat-controlled Congress.

Cole sees the 2008 election as shaping up like the one in 1992, when incumbents of both parties had a hard time. It’s true that Congress as a whole has only a 29 percent approval rating, lower than that of President Bush. But the problem for the GOP is that, as Washington Post columnist David Broder notes, half of the voters blame Bush and the Republicans; only 25 percent place the onus on the Democrats.

Another excuse Republicans are likely to make is that America is still, largely, a center-Right country. That’s true—but the center has shifted towards the Left. On a range of key issues, from trade to health care to economic inequality, the number of Americans who share some classic Democratic concerns has risen, notes the Wall Street Journal. A recent Pew poll found that “Three-quarters of the population is worried about growing income inequality. Pew also showed that two-thirds of those polled favor government-funded health care for all.” At the same time, Pew reports that “Support for a government safety net for the poor is at its highest level since 1987.”

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Broadly speaking, the political mood of the public can be gauged in terms of its shifting calculation of risk and reward. If, as in the period from about 1980 to 2004, the promise of new rewards outweighs the fears of accompanying risk, the market-oriented Republicans will be the beneficiaries. But if, as in the period from 1932 to 1966, the fear of risk is more salient than the hope of enhanced rewards, the result will be movement away from free-market policies and towards the presumed protections of government regulation.

For all its benefits, globalization (and the accompanying issues of massive illegal immigration) has brought to an end the period that privileged risk over reward. The Republican Party seems unable to face up to this shift. Some of my GOP friends blame it all on Bush. They rail at the failings of the Bush administration with the kind of vitriol usually reserved for leftists. Others, taken aback by the plunge in Republican party identification, trot out consoling ploys along the lines of “You should have seen the other guy!” Take, for example, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. While he acknowledges the unpopularity of the GOP, after a wave of scandals, the setbacks in Iraq, etc., he also emphasizes the misfortunes of the Democrat-controlled Congress.

Cole sees the 2008 election as shaping up like the one in 1992, when incumbents of both parties had a hard time. It’s true that Congress as a whole has only a 29 percent approval rating, lower than that of President Bush. But the problem for the GOP is that, as Washington Post columnist David Broder notes, half of the voters blame Bush and the Republicans; only 25 percent place the onus on the Democrats.

Another excuse Republicans are likely to make is that America is still, largely, a center-Right country. That’s true—but the center has shifted towards the Left. On a range of key issues, from trade to health care to economic inequality, the number of Americans who share some classic Democratic concerns has risen, notes the Wall Street Journal. A recent Pew poll found that “Three-quarters of the population is worried about growing income inequality. Pew also showed that two-thirds of those polled favor government-funded health care for all.” At the same time, Pew reports that “Support for a government safety net for the poor is at its highest level since 1987.”

Republicans have long been the party of de-regulation in the name of freer markets. Yet, a recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News Poll finds a dramatic shift by Republican voters against our current free trade policies. Sixty percent “agreed with a statement that free trade has been bad for the U.S. and said they would agree with a Republican candidate who favored tougher regulations to limit foreign imports.” Indeed, faced with growing competition from inexpensive Chinese imports that don’t have to incorporate the costs of American safety requirements, some U.S. manufacturers are receptive to new regulations that, as they see it, could level the playing field.

The socially-conservative Right is waning as the Left waxes. It’s not just that evangelicals are increasingly divided among themselves. Pew found that between 1987 and this year, support for “old-fashioned values about family and marriage” had dropped 11 percentage points. The percentage of those who said gay teachers should be fired dropped 23 points.” Politicians have noticed. When Fred Thompson was asked by Sean Hannity about James Dobson’s criticism of him, the former senator, once seen as the great social conservative hope, replied curtly “I don’t dance to anyone’s tune.”

With Karl Rove’s fantasies of a GOP realignment having come to an end, Republicans have been pouncing on Bush’s numerous inadequacies. They are all too real, but so are the underlying changes that will be with us after Bush leaves the White House. From the look of things, the Republicans are no more ready to adapt than were their Democratic predecessors of the 1970’s.

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The Thompson Candidacy

How serious a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination is Fred Thompson?

Apparently quite serious indeed. Last week GOP insider pundit Robert Novak assured readers that Thompson isn’t just toying with running—he will declare his candidacy early next month. This rumor has generated outsized buzz, including a highly negative column by George Will. But a great many conservatives, dissatisfied with a field in which none of the three leading contenders is a down-the-line conservative, seem to be fans.

The former Senator’s most salient attribute is his persona. He has a large, comforting, commanding presence that Hollywood directors have seen fit to cast as an admiral, the director of the CIA, and even the President. His slow drawl, big eyes, and wrinkles make him the very image of the respected Southern lawyer. He is an excellent communicator, sympathetic, easy to watch, and never grating (which is not true of, say, Rudy). Some go so far as to call his qualities “Reaganesque.”

But what about substance?

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How serious a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination is Fred Thompson?

Apparently quite serious indeed. Last week GOP insider pundit Robert Novak assured readers that Thompson isn’t just toying with running—he will declare his candidacy early next month. This rumor has generated outsized buzz, including a highly negative column by George Will. But a great many conservatives, dissatisfied with a field in which none of the three leading contenders is a down-the-line conservative, seem to be fans.

The former Senator’s most salient attribute is his persona. He has a large, comforting, commanding presence that Hollywood directors have seen fit to cast as an admiral, the director of the CIA, and even the President. His slow drawl, big eyes, and wrinkles make him the very image of the respected Southern lawyer. He is an excellent communicator, sympathetic, easy to watch, and never grating (which is not true of, say, Rudy). Some go so far as to call his qualities “Reaganesque.”

But what about substance?

Thompson frequently fills in for ABC radio host Paul Harvey, and gives short “position paper” talks on issues. If recent ones are a guide, he is pro-defense, committed to winning in Iraq, opposed to civilization-wide surrender to Islamofascism, pro-immigration enforcement, and an economic conservative. It is worth noting, however, that these are only his stated positions. In his Senate years he supported McCain-Feingold on campaign-finance reform and lacked the political skill to turn the Chinagate hearings (which he chaired) into a substantive exposition of Bill Clinton’s arms-for-cash chicanery.

Thompson certainly has as much political experience as anyone from either party in this year’s not overly experienced crop. He served eight years as a U.S. Senator but has been in government and around politics much longer than that. His resume includes an early stint as a deputy U.S. attorney in his native Tennessee, after which he ran Howard Baker’s 1972 Senate campaign. He came to Washington to serve as co-chief counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee. He worked as a lobbyist for 18 years, and began his acting career accidentally enough in 1987, when the director of a movie about one of Thompson’s cases couldn’t find someone to play him, and so asked him to audition. After leaving the Senate in 2003, he joined the cast of the popular legal drama Law and Order.

Can Thompson catch up with the field money-wise, having missed the first quarter of fundraising? He is said to be able to raise “Hollywood money” (though Hollywood GOP money is a new concept). Thompson is not by any means known as a hard worker–and raising more than $1 million a week is hard work. His already-high name recognition, though, could offset the need for advertising dollars. Jumping in late also has the potential advantage of saving him from overexposure. John McCain is already suffering from this malady, having been the candidate-in-waiting since the end of the 2000 primaries. And Thompson polled high in March, beating Hillary in a Rasmussen match-up by a margin of 44 percent to 43 percent, and came in third in the Republican field (ahead of Romney) in a recent Gallup poll.

Last month the evangelical leader and talk-show host James Dobson announced that he won’t support Thompson. Dobson doesn’t think the former Senator is a real Christian, never having heard him discuss his Christian beliefs publicly. This won’t hurt, since no one meets Dobson’s test this year—and polls show Rudy Giuliani, a social libertarian who respondents feel is tough enough to stare down the nation’s very real enemies, running first. What may hurt Thompson, quite reasonably, is the fact that he has no executive experience.

Ten months out from the first primary, the GOP field remains fluid, as Republicans wait to see how the candidates fare over a very long campaign season. Thompson could easily end up on the ticket—but it’s not likely to be in the top slot.

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