James Dobson's Betrayal

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Suppose we're convinced that a certain issue is more important than any other, and it's on the level of urgent moral necessity to do whatever we can to make progress on that issue and that issue, even if it sets us back quite a ways on other issues. I don't think that's true of the issue of abortion. Having pro-life leaders on the national level isn't better than having pro-choice leaders if the pro-life leaders are going to do things that are even worse than the status quo on abortion. I wouldn't vote for someone who thinks abortion is wrong if the person also thinks we ought to put the majority of the population in machines for eight hours a day that cause intense pain and shorten their lives conserably, merely to make the lives of a few elite people comfortable. While I think abortion is evil and unjust, I'd rather make little progress or even move backward on that score if it's a choice between that and moving into a society that's so bad that the abortion status quo pales in comparison. Those who tolerate grave evil are still better than those who would deliberately perpatuate a greater evil.

But even if we consider a certain issue to be so all-defining that we think we should care very little about anything else, I think we have a moral obligation to prefer someone who is closer to us on that issue than someone else who is further from us on the issue, even if we think both of them hold immoral views and are too tolerant of evil. This may well end up being the case with the 2008 presidential race for pro-lifers if it turns out that the two frontrunners get their respective party nominations. Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice. So is Hillary Clinton. According to the pro-life view, both of them are willing to tolerate serious evil, and that is immoral. However, even given the false premise that abortion is the only morally relevant issue, it simply doesn't follow that pro-life voters ought to stay home or vote for a third party if those two candidates receive their party nominations.

Even if abortion is the only issue under consideration, Hillary Clinton is far worse from a pro-life perspective than Rudy Giuliani is. When he was mayor of a very liberal city, he did virtually nothing to increase women's rights to have abortions, and the abortion rate went down. Some of that may have been just part of a national trend going on at the same time, but it doesn't seem as if he cared enough about the issue to promote abortion rights, never mind to expand them. Rather, he seems to have been expressing a pro-choice view mainly because he's not too motivated by pro-life concerns and not because he holds Hillary Clinton's view that the right to abortion is so inviolable that we should never restrict it under any circumstances.

He seems open to letting states decide, as is his general view on many issues. He worked in the Reagan Justice Department, which suggest some kind of judicial conservatism, and he has gone on record supporting judicial nominees like Roberts and Alito, as opposed to those like Kennedy, O'Connor, or other Republican appointees who have safeguarded Roe v. Wade. Even if the pro-life voter can't trust how faithful he'd be to that, he obviously isn't so dedicated to the pro-choice view that he'll let it affect anything else he does as if it's one of the most important rights one might poseess, which is exactly what Hillary Clinton would do.

So in the end, I just cannot see how someone could in good conscience believe that the pro-life view is all-important and then not vote for Giuliani if the choice is between him and Hillary Clinton. It seems completely at odds with the pro-life goal to recognize that you have some ability to influence which one of these two would be president and then not to influence things so to prevent the worse of the two. So even given the false assumption that abortion is all-important, the idea of staying home or voting for a third-party candidate strikes me as simply undermining the pro-life movement. Those who do that are working at cross-purposes with pro-life goals and are thus betraying the one thing they think is all-important.

What's worse is if you recognize that other issues are important, and if you tend to agree with Republicans against Democrats on those other important issues. If you do, it should take very little comparison between these two candidates to realize that Giuliani should be far preferable to almost any conservative. I've said many times that I prefer to nominate someone like Mitt Romney for the Republican spot in this race, but it just seems immoral to me to care about the abortion issue and then to allow someone much worse than Giuliani to win out of distaste for his pro-choice views. Therefore, I find myself declaring on the basis of this argument that James Dobson has betrayed the pro-life movement by vowing never to vote for the better candidate if the two candidates are too close on this issue for his comfort.


Giuliani is not someone I particularly like. Abortion is something I am pretty passionately against. But regardless of that, if it a choice between two evils, I would take the lesser. After all, if you don't the greater evil takes over. Boy though, what I am really annoyed with, is how all the people running are such politicians. What I mean is, that from what I can see, none of them have very much conviction. Give me a William Wilberforce! Someone who believes something, and won't back down from what they believe to be true. It just seems all the fellow running right now are politicians trying to win votes. From Hilary's fake accent, to Obama's hamming up to black audiences, to the compromising that the GOP candidates are giving. Dangit.

I don't see much compromising from Mitt Romney. Some of the lower tier candidates are also pretty uncompromising, although some of them are uncompromising on pretty stupid things.

Yeah Romney seems pretty good, but you don't hear much about him. I think the only person I have heard about him, is from you. I hope he does well.

I hear about Romney all the time. Most news reports take him as one of the top three candidates. He appears on the cable news networks all the time. Most commentators on the two debates seem to have taken him either to have won both or to have been among two or three who did best. Several polls in certain states since the first debate have even shown him move from third to first place.

Jeremy, I missed the part of the article where Dobson vows "never to vote for the better candidate if the two candidates are too close on this issue for his comfort." You don't think his claim that his decision not to vote for Giuliani is "irrevocable" rises to the level you seem to be claiming. Does the better candidate have to be one with a live chance of winning?

Don't you think someone might look at the field and not like any of the candidates. Perhaps they think there isn't even much difference between the two parties at this point. Odds are that no matter which party wins the US will survive the next four years. That person might then decided that the best thing they could do to affect change in the long run is to encourage the 20 million like minded individuals to stay home this election. That might send a signal to the party that seems to be taking those 20 million votes for granted. In the grand scheme 20 million votes might not seem like a lot, but several key states have turned on a few hundred votes.

I'm not following your first paragraph, Matthew. I never said anything about which of Clinton or Giuliani had a better chance of winning. Unless you're talking about who one might vote for in a primary, I don't see how who has a better chance of winning is even relevant. Dobson didn't say that he wouldn't vote for Giuliani in the primary. I have no intention of voting for him in the primary. But I certainly would vote for him in the general election, and what he say very clearly implies that he would not vote for her against Obama or Clinton in the general. That amounts to not voting for the better candidate when there is a noticeable difference, and his reason is that it isn't as much of a difference as he would wish if the primary were to go the way he prefers.

There is indeed a very large difference between the parties. I don't know how anyone could possibly look at the stark differences on virtually any major issue at stake and come away thinking the parties are pretty much the same. Surely the mere survival of the nation shouldn't be all we care about. Whether we're massacring human people by means of abortion is a crucial difference. Whether we should be spending lots of money and making life uncomfortable for lots of people in order to stave off a change of a degree in temperature every year is surely important. Whether we remain in Iraq is monumental.

So, your answer is to bash Dr. Dobson like the rest of the leftist media folks...and even some conservative types jump on that bandwagon too. Like Glenn Beck who had to apologize for not speaking to Dr. Dobson himself, instead believing the media spin.

Bashing would involve demeaning or ignoring his good contributions, calling him nasty names, impugning his character as not well-meaning, or some such negative treatment. What I have done is presented his view in a way that I think he would accept is accurate and then showed why I think the action he recommends (and says he will follow) is actually harmful to the cause he favors. Criticizing one's view is not the same as bashing the person. If it's automatically wrong to point out that well-meaning people often advocate things that lead to very bad results, then I think there's little hope for ever having any moral discussion.

Thanks for a good post. I especially like your last comment on "bashing."

Jeremy, I appreciated your comments on this issue, and I do desire to see authentic moral discussion. I was just sorry to see Dobson, one of the few that consistently speaks out for godly values, cast in the category of "immoral" as regards his vote, and I think it's unfortunate to indict him for betrayal of the pro-life movement. To me, that's very strong language; maybe "bashing" was the wrong term, how about "denouncing" or "condemning" or "attacking"?

I'm sure you know what this man has done for the pro-life movement. And I know that I, for one, can never accomplish what he has in this arena. Knowing this man's high character and his position before the Lord, (which he unashamedly proclaims) how can I judge his vote?

This is not to say one can never disagree with another believer. But the type of accusations made - immorality and betrayal - I found inappropriate.

Denouncing, condemning, and attacking are all way too strong for merely pointing out that someone's view ends up leading to immoral actions. All it means to say something is immoral is to say that it is morally wrong, i.e. that you shouldn't do it. As for betrayal, that's just a factual question. Is the view he's advocating one that will set the pro-life movement back? I argue that it will, and he will encourage many, many people to do the same. That's very serious. I'm sure the kings of Israel and Judah who wanted to turn to Egypt as protection from Assyria and Babylon were well-meaning, but they were doing something disastrous, and God's prophets had to point that out. I don't see how I as a believer can remain silent when I see a Christian leader with his influence advocating that people should do something that turns out to go against their own convictions.

Hey, it's your blog, you can bash if you want to. Just kidding, honestly! :-) I don't want to be the word police over here, and I do think this is a good discussion. I like people who don't keep silent about their convictions. I may disagree based on the information I currently have, but I'll keep an open mind...

Mr. Pierce,
I enjoy your blog very much, and I mostly agree with your take here, but I respectfully suggest use of the word "betray" in this context was ill-advised. "Betray" is defined as (in relevant part)
"1. To give aid or information to an enemy of; commit treason against: betray one's country.
2. To deliver into the hands of an enemy in violation of a trust or allegiance: betrayed Christ to the Romans.
To be false or disloyal to: betrayed their cause; betray one's better nature."
I'm pretty sure none of that is what you meant; but it is in effect what you said. It's a sorta word hard not to get offended by, if it's applied to you or someone you respect. No slam intended, just pointing out.

How is this not giving aid to the opponents of the pro-life cause? It seems to fit 1, therefore. He's also been a trusted leader of the pro-life movement, and thousands of people follow his lead. If the pro-life movement has given him that role, and he leads them astray in such a ridiculously bad way, then I think he's violated that trust. I think what he's recommending, endorsing, and planning to do really does count as a betrayal of the pro-life cause. I used that word deliberately, because I think it's accurate.

Causing offense for the sake of causing offense is bad. But I'm trying to point out a serious moral mistake. It's hard to do that without using strong language. Otherwise I'd be softpedaling what I see as a grave mistake. When you call something bad bad, it's hard for those who identify with that bad not to get offended, but there's no way to speak the truth and not offend them. What we must hope is that people will use it as an opportunity to reconsider their position or actions and recognize how bad it is.

Jeremy, concerning my quoting of this post at RedBlueChristian.com, I didn’t mean to imply that you were a utilitarian or that Dobson was a deontologist, only that the two sides in this debate are good examples of someone who held to those views might make. My point was just that this debate is a good illustration of the two ethical models. More importantly, I wanted to show that when the political rubber hits the ethical road for Christians on issues like this, we will have to do some hard ethical thinking in order to make good decisions.


Right, but what I want to argue is for a more complex view that's sort of between the two main models in some sense. It's technically deontological, but it's not Kant's model, which is what usually gets treated as the deontological view.

There was an interesting interview of Dobson about this on Hannity & Colmes. Some of it's on video here:

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