06 April 2007

Twilight of the gods

From Pam we get this story in The Economist (ha!) suggesting the decline of James Dobson's Jesus Machine is imminent.

... since stepping down as head of Focus on the Family in 2003, he has been spendthrift with the political capital he took so long accumulating. He stomped the country for social conservatives in 2004—and devoted a fearsome amount of effort to unseating Mr Daschle. He repeatedly threatened the Republican establishment with severe punishment if it failed to “deliver” for the people who put the party back in power in 2004. Why was George Bush spending so much time trying to reform Social Security, he thundered, when he should have been trying to repair the country’s morals?

The problem is that Mr Dobson is not all that good at politics. He displays all the characteristic weaknesses of evangelical politicos—overreaching hopelessly and then blaming failure on want of political courage. He was the prime force behind both the fight to keep Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube in place and the push for a gay-marriage ban. But a majority of evangelicals disapproved of the first and a large number of his fellow social conservatives warned, rightly, that the second was a waste of effort.

Dobson's troubles are related to those which derailed the Indiana SSM amendment* earlier this week. After the 2004 election, he believed, with the assistance of a fawning mainstream press, that he was leading a rising, irresistible wave of "values voters" who would overrun anything he pointed at. The Schiavo debacle, coming only a few months after Bush's reelection, showed that, while many ordinary folks might go for some casual gay paranoia, they weren't willing to follow the fundies into the abyss.

The Old Guard's other fatal flaw is it's belief that the road to power comes through unflinching partisan loyalty to the Republicans. As slacktivist has written, this has caused them to butt heads with other evangelical organizations who don't understand why it's a Christian duty to be a climate change denier. But Dobson is faced with unfavorable choices in 2008 precisely because his Republican handlers know he is all bark and no bite. He can threaten them until he's blue, but he isn't going to go anywhere. Consequently, he becomes marginalized.

Mr Dobson and his acolytes are rapidly being displaced by what Mr Gilgoff calls a New New Right—people who are concerned about international justice and climate change as well as abortion and gay marriage, and people who are willing to work with liberal pressure groups over issues such as Sudan and sex slavery.

These folks are modestly more desirable, but they are much more dangerous largely because they will use whichever political groups suit their ends, even if it means clashing with Dobson's decrepit establishment.