So James Dobson won’t support John McCain “under any circumstances”. In fact, the Focus on the Family founder told radio talk show host Jerry Johnson this week that he’s “praying” we don’t get stuck with McCain, who Dobson claims is “not in favor of traditional marriage.”
Specifically, Dobson was responding to a taped snippet of McCain saying this: “I think, uh … I think that gay marriage should be allowed if there’s a ceremony kind of thing, if you wanna call it that … I don’t have any problem with that.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney now says he is “firmly pro-life,” though he supported abortion rights when he was running for governor of Massachusetts four years ago. His position on gays has been so thoroughly disseminated that news accounts are noting that he once hired someone who is gay to be his transportation secretary and in 1994, reportedly said: “I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”
What is an ultraconservative like Dobson to do?Look! Here comes Sen. Sam Brownback, skipping his way up “the yellow brick road to the White House”. On Saturday, the Republican senator from Kansas officially announced his entrance into the 2008 presidential race. No word from Dobson yet – unofficially of course, as by law Focus cannot formally endorse a candidate – on whether Brownback will get the thumbs up.
But the senator from Kansas is clearly laying himself out as the conservative’s conservative. Nothing has surfaced about a past record of supporting gays in any way, or comments that religious conservatives are “agents of intolerance,” as McCain once referred to Jerry Falwell and others of like mind.
In his speech announcing his candidacy, Brownback hit all the current conservative buttons: traditional marriage, anti-abortion, anti-embryonic stem cell research, will never raise taxes, plans to travel back to Washington for an anti-abortion rally to mark the 34th anniversary of Roe v Wade.
“Let’s start following our hearts and work to protect all innocent human life at all stages,” he said.
Brownback, it should be noted, replaced the senate seat that Bob Dole gave up to run for president in 1996. That same year was the first that Dobson, then far better known as a folksy child psychologist with a radio program who had written a bestselling book, “Dare to Discipline,” assumed the role as a then-very quiet, but undisputed, GOP presidential kingmaker.
The year before, Dobson – who by then had the backing of his $101-million a year ministry and millions of followers, issued a naked threat to Republican political candidates: either adopt his unyielding stand against abortion or face virtual Armageddon.
After his vow, never again to vote for or support a political candidate who was “squishy” on abortion, every serious GOP presidential candidate in 1996 – including Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan, Steve “Flat Tax” Forbes, Phil Gramm and yes, Bob Dole – traveled to Colorado Springs to seek Dobson’s support.
“The fact that the candidates have made it a requirement to come through and kiss his ring clearly indicates they think he’s influential,” Michael Hudson of People for the American Way), which tracks the rightwing movement, said at the time. “I would rank him next to, if not above (the Christian Coalition’s) Pat Robertson.”
Dole, ultimately the Republican nominee, praised Dobson during an interview that year, when he was in Colorado Springs for a fundraiser. During the visit, Dole, Dobson and a group of other GOP luminaries attended church service together at First Presbyterian Church downtown. The entourage included then-Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate that year, then-Secretary of State Victoria Buckley, who has since died, then-Congressman Joel Hefley, and Dobson’s wife Shirley. Two pews were roped off for the VIP’s, and Dobson was seated at the right of Dole.
Dole, of course, went on to lose to Bill Clinton. A decade later, it’s a likely bet that his replacement, Sam Brownback, will be visiting Colorado soon.
Cara DeGette is a longtime editor and columnist at the Colorado Springs Independent.