Conservative Spotlight: Focus on the Family Action

Until this year Dr. James Dobson spent most of his life avoiding partisan politics. Now, under the auspices of his new political organization, he has gone from helping re-elect President Bush to protesting Arlen Specter’s bid to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Dobson started Focus on the Family Action with the intent of taking on a more politically active role in the 2004 campaign, something he couldn’t do while leading the tax-exempt Focus on the Family, which he started in 1977.

Judging from the results on Election Day, Dobson’s work paid off. Nearly 80% of evangelical Christians voted for Bush, according to exit polls. All churchgoers, of whatever faith, also leaned heavily toward Bush, as did voters opposed to abortion.

Media requests have poured into Focus on the Family Action since the election, making Dobson a household name not only for conservatives, but for antagonistic liberals as well. Dobson told HUMAN EVENTS he wants no special recognition.

“We just attempted to do our bit,” Dobson said. “We don’t want to overstate it.”

Dobson was inspired to take a more active political role after the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision in June 2003. That decision overturned a Texas sodomy law, and Dobson predicted it could doom the institution of marriage.

Then in November 2003, the high court in Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, causing Dobson more anguish. He said the actions of these judges–at the federal and state level–triggered the creation of Focus on the Family Action in April.

“The thought of John Kerry making three or four appointments to the Supreme Court, and therefore setting its tone for the next 25 years, was very alarming to me,” said Dobson, who recalled lying awake at 4 in the morning one day fretting about a possible appointment of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) to the Supreme Court.

With all sorts of conservative and Christian interest groups seeking attention, Dobson said Focus on the Family Action has succeeded by concentrating on a narrow slate of concerns and utilizing his flagship group’s media empire.

Dobson’s radio program reaches 7-million listeners per week and his ten magazines are read by more 2.3-million people per month. When he’s not communicating with people through these media outlets, Dobson is making public appearances. The most notable was at a May rally at Seattle’s Safeco Field that attracted an estimated 20,000 people supporting traditional marriage.

Besides protecting the institution of marriage, which Dobson said inspired him to create Focus on the Family Action, he has concentrated on issues involving the sanctity of life and the welfare of the family. For example, he opposes cloning and the use of embryonic stem cells for research and encourages parents to take an active role in their child’s education.

All of these issues helped boost the turnout for conservatives and Christians, according to Dobson. He said Bush made an effective appeal to his base, unlike when his father, former President George H.W. Bush, ran for re-election in 1992. In that race, only 29% of evangelicals supported Bush, compared to the 43% who had backed him in 1988.

Dobson said he hopes the current President doesn’t renege on the promises he made during his campaign. Pushing for action the Federal Marriage Amendment is one thing Dobson would like to see during the second term. Appointing pro-life and pro-family judges is another.

“We really consider there to be only one issue, and that’s the courts,” Dobson told HUMAN EVENTS. “They have become so arrogant, and so independent and so imperious. It doesn’t matter what the people want anymore. The Supreme Court has a 42-year record of assault on religious liberty going all the way back to 1962 with prayer in schools.”

Dobson criticized historic decisions like Roe v. Wade and recent ones involving the Pledge of Allegiance and the federal partial-birth abortion ban enacted in 2003.

The concern over judicial nominees has Dobson particularly worked up about Specter’s possible ascension to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee, which wields great influence over the President’s nominees.

At a post-election news conference November 3, Specter suggested Bush shouldn’t bother nominating pro-life judges. Specter has since distanced himself from his comments, but the protests against him haven’t subsided. He has repeatedly tried to explain himself in an effort to allay fears voiced by activists like Dobson.

“He was very clear about what his intentions are,” Dobson said in reference to Specter’s initial remarks. “It’s not only the court, he stands in opposition to just about everything the President ran on in terms of the moral and social agenda. How arrogant is that?”