After years of attacking Democrats with relative impunity for their supposed moral failings, Evangelical leader James Dobson surely didn't expect to suffer much of a backlash when he trained his sights on Barack Obama. Over the years, the party had practically cowered in fear and gone into radio silence when the head of Focus on the Family targeted one of its standard-bearers. So in a campaign that has already proved to be anything but predictable, the counterattack on Dobson this week epitomized the new, fraught political climate that Christian Right leaders like himself face.
Earlier this week, Dobson used his popular Christian radio program to denounce a 2006 speech the Illinois Senator gave about the place of religion in public life. He took personal offense at the fact that Obama had referred to him by name in the same breath as Al Sharpton, using the two to illustrate the range of differences that exist within Christianity. But he also expressed outrage at Obama's assertion that individuals can be moral without being religious. "He oughta read the Bible," said Dobson. Obama, he charged, was "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview."
But less than 24 hours after Dobson's radio broadcast, www.jamesdobsondoesntspeakforme.com was up and running on the Web. The site displays both Dobson's charges against Obama and Obama's own quotes from the 2006 speech. It also features a statement condemning Dobson that reads in part: "James Dobson doesn't speak for me when he uses religion as a wedge to divide; he doesn't speak for me when he speaks as the final arbiter on the meaning of the Bible."
The website was the handiwork of a coalition of Christian leaders headed by Kirbyjon Caldwell, the Texas pastor and Bush family friend who led the benediction at George W. Bush's first Inauguration. The group came up with the idea for the site a while ago, and figured it was just a matter of time before the good Dr. Dobson would give them an opportunity to unveil it. And they're not the only ones pushing back against the Christian Right leader's broadsides. The Matthew 25 Network is a political action committee formed in early June by Mara Vanderslice, a Democratic strategist who oversaw religious outreach on the 2004 Kerry campaign and remembers well the perils of remaining silent in the face of attacks on that candidate's Catholic faith. Within hours of Dobson's program, the PAC had raised $4,000 for radio ads that will run next week in the Colorado Springs market, Dobson's home turf. Vanderslice and her co-producers at the Eleison Group, a new Democratic consulting firm founded by Hillary Clinton's former religion adviser, Burns Strider, plan to expand to other stations that carry Dobson's Focus program.