ONE OF THE GREAT DISAPPOINTMENTS to the GOP in the election of 2000 was the disappearance of more than 4 million evangelical Christians in the final turn-out numbers. In this cycle, evangelical leaders have launched ivotevalues.org to encourage registration and turn-out, and to educate pastors and congregations on their ability to conduct non-partisan registration drives without incurring the wrath of the IRS. One of the nation's most influential voices within the evangelical community is Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of the board of Focus on the Family. Dobson's radio broadcasts are heard by millions of people each work around the globe as his program broadcasts in more than 100 countries, and is heard on thousands of outlets in the United States.
Dobson cannot endorse candidates on his Focus programs or in connection with any Focus program. But he can be interviewed in his capacity as a citizen, which is what I did yesterday for an hour. Here are some of the exchanges from that interview:
On the choice between George Bush and John Kerry:
Hewitt: Let me get right to the heart of the hunt here. It is the most important presidential election of my lifetime. Do you think it is, doctor?
Dobson: I definitely do. I think we are at a crossroads. There are two paths in front of us, and if we make the wrong decision this time, I don't know if we'll come back from it. I really am very, very concerned about where we are as a nation.
Hewitt: As between President Bush and Senator Kerry, who will you be voting for?
Dobson.:Well, I'll be voting for President Bush. Once again, I'm not speaking for Focus on the Family, but as a private individual, but the IRS allows me to do that, and I do it enthusiastically.
Hewitt: Tell me why.
Dobson: Well, because President Bush understands the great moral issues of our time. I don't think there's a greater public policy issue before us than the issue of marriage, and it is on the ropes, it is in danger, and if the family goes down, the entire country goes with it, and he has had the courage to take a stand. He's been hit hard by the Washington press and the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and the rest of the news media for taking a stand for marriage like he's done, but I appreciate it, appreciate him doing that. Also, the sanctity of life and many other moral issues, to say nothing of the way he's run the country. I think he's done a good job.
Hewitt: I'd like to start with the war. How do you think the president has acted as commander-in-chief in the war on terror?
Dobson: I think he's responded admirably. We can't sit here and wait to be hit. You can't just hope that the enemy that brought down the World Trade Center is going to wait, or give us a warning before they do something even worse than that. You know, we have the specter now of dirty bombs, and maybe even nuclear weapons themselves, all kinds of biological weapons. I mean we're sitting ducks here, and I'm thankful for a president who is willing to go out there and fight for us and to take the battle to them on their territory, and not wait until we get hit here.
On South Dakota Senate Candidate John Thune:
Dobson: John Thune is a friend of mine. He graduated from Biola University, where my son graduated, and I have hunted with him in South Dakota, I know him personally. He is a very, very good man, and my hope and prayer is that the people of South Dakota are committed enough to get to the polls and put him in office, because that would make a big, big difference in the U.S. Senate.
Hewitt: Now, a lot of times I urge people to contribute money over the web to JohnThune.com. What's your opinion of Christians giving money to politics, because there is such pressing need out there, so much poverty, so much hurt in the world, and often I hear Christians saying they just can't give any money to politics, they have got to put it into missions, for example.
Dobson: Well, people have to do business with the Lord on that, and decide what He wants them to do with their money. You know, they should always take care of the needs of their local church first, I believe. I have said many times, don't give to Focus on the Family until you have met that obligation, and certainly to missions and other things. But politics fits in there some place, because the decisions that are made by the people we put in office have moral implications that ought to be taken into consideration.
On judges, same-sex marriage and John Kerry:
Hewitt: When you hear John Kerry say that he is against same-sex marriage, and fully aware that he is one of the few senators that voted against the defense of marriage act in the middle '90s, do you believe him?
Dobson: No, I don't. I believe that you can read between the lines in the things that he's said. He does support same-sex marriage, but it's not politically advantageous to say so, so he says he's for civil unions. Everything depends on the appointment of judges, that's the really big issue, Hugh. If you want to look at what the Supreme Court will look like if John Kerry gets an opportunity to shape it, look at the Massachusetts court. Because those are the kind of people that he will put on there. And I shudder to think of what will happen to us if that becomes the standard for jurisprudence in this country.
I'll eventually get the complete transcript up on my blog, but the passion with which Dobson has thrown himself into this race and the general commitment of evangelical voters that it represents is a yet largely unreported story of this election cycle. Rarely has an election seen such widespread energy among faith communities.
In Missouri on Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly chose to amend the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage, by a margin of 72 percent to 28 percent. Even more remarkable about that election was that turnout was much higher on the Democratic side, where a closely contested Democratic primary for governor brought more than 800,000 Democrats to the polls, while only 533,000 Republicans showed up to vote for their nominee, Matt Blunt, who was a prohibitive favorite. In this battleground state in an election where turn-out was dominated by Democrats, traditional marriage scored a huge win. Elite media sniffs at this issue, but it drives people to the polls, and it resonates even in otherwise solid Democratic constituencies such as African-American church goers.
James Dobson is just one voice, though a hugely influential one within the Christian community. Others in this community see the stakes as he does, and though some of the clergy on the left like to think they have audiences approaching the numbers those on the center-right, all evidence points to a decisive advantage among church-goers in support of George W. Bush.
Don't be surprised if this constituency--unnoticed by pollsters or hostile to their advances--turns some state races thought to be too-close-to-call into walk-aways for Bush. And in races like the Daschle-Thune contest in South Dakota, the issue of marriage may spark stunning rejections of those senators like Daschle (and Murray in Washington state and Boxer in California) who have obstructed judges and denied the states a chance to debate the marriage protection amendment.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends Upon It. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.
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