Dobson vs. McCain

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James Dobson continues his crusade against the pro-life cause [hat tip: Justin Taylor]. Now that he can't use Rudy Giuliani's actual pro-choice views to prefer a hardcore pro-choicer to a moderate pro-choicer, he's stuck using John McCain's lukewarm but consistently pro-life views as an excuse to prefer a pro-choice president to a pro-life one. It's a strange way to try to pursue the pro-life agenda if you do everything you can to put into office those who will do everything they can to frustrate that agenda.

What's worse is how badly he misrepresents McCain's views. Here is what he gives as his reasons for preferring a radically pro-choice president to John McCain:

McCain "did not support a Constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage".

Well, sure. He doesn't think that's what the Constitution is for. Is it better on pro-life principles to prefer Roe v. Wade staying on as the law of the land for decades or to vote for someone whose opposition to gay marriage isn't going to occur at the constitutional amendment level but rather at the level of mere law? This disagreement isn't about McCain not opposing gay marriage. It's about his not opposing it at the level of a constitutional amendment that never had any chance of passing to begin with. If Dobson thinks that's any reason to vote against him, he's gone off the deep end.

McCain "voted for embryonic stem cell research to kill nascent human beings".

That's a lie. What McCain did is vote for embryonic stem cell research that would use the stem cells from embryos that were already going to be killed one way or the other. There are pro-life people who wrongly think such research would violate pro-life principles. I've tried to argue against that claim. But Dobson could at least present his criticism accurately rather than slandering his fellow pro-lifer who happens to think the moral implications of the pro-life assumption go in a different direction on this one issue.

What's even worse is that McCain no longer even holds this position, something Dobson fails to mention. Isn't that a little bit relevant? A vote for McCain wouldn't support a president who advocates the view Dobson disagrees with, since McCain doesn't support that view. He's become convinced that there are now alternative ways of providing enough stem cells for the research he wants funded without relying on embryos, even ones who are already going to be killed. By not mentioning this extremely important fact, Dobson is misleading those who will reasonably be expected to conclude that McCain still holds this view, and deliberate deception is as bad morally as outright lying, even if the statement is literally true (not that it is; see the immediately previous paragraph).

Update: I've treated McCain's current views on this issue more fully here.

McCain "opposed tax cuts that ended the marriage penalty".

First of all, it's important to recognize that many legislative packages are exactly that: packages. Legislators often vote against a package because of something in it, but it doesn't follow that they voted against it because of whatever particular item in it you happen to pick out as important to you. They may actually approve of that item but not of something else in it. So the fact that McCain voted against a packaged that included ending the marriage penalty doesn't mean he opposes ending the marriage penalty. In fact, his initial vote was in favor of this package, so something else must have been added to change his vote before the final version went through. The removal of the marriage penalty was part of the package he voted for. In fact, he supports exactly the sort of thing Dobson is implicating that he opposes. This is an excellent example of a literally true statement that has a clear implicature of something false, which is tantamount to a lie even if it's not technically false.

McCain "has little regard for freedom of speech".

I assume this has to do with campaign finance. To say that McCain has little regard for free speech is pretty low. He certainly opposes a certain use of money in electoral campaigns, and many conservatives see his views as limiting free speech. It's a little misleading to put it this way, though. What he's saying is that McCain has little regard for one particular use of money that should count as free speech. That would be accurate and precise. Since Dobson counts it as free speech, he could say that McCain has little regard for one particular kind of free speech. That would certainly be accurate on Dobson's view (and I agree with him). But the way he said it makes it sound as if it's free speech in general that McCain has little regard for, and that's at best misleading.

McCain "organized the Gang of 14 to preserve filibusters in judicial hearings".

Was the single purpose of the Gang of 14 to preserve filibusters in judicial hearings? Look again at what both sides of the 14 wanted in their compromise. It's true that the Democrats in the Gang of 14 were in it to preserve the chance to filibuster the nominees they saw as extreme, but the point of the compromise from the GOP side was to get a lot of the nominees the rest of the Democrats saw as extreme confirmed. McCain saw a chance to avoid a filibuster of a number of conservative nominees as long as he could keep some Republicans from removing the filibuster for a much smaller group of nominees that the seven Democrats in the Gang of 14 still wanted to oppose.

As is often the case in a narrowly divided legislative body, McCain was willing to compromise on a few more conservative nominees for the sake of a much larger group of pretty conservative nominees. He thought such a compromise would be better than losing the rights of the minority party to filibuster, something the Republicans in the Senate will probably be glad they will be able to use against the next Democratic president that Dobson is doing his best to have elected this year. I can see how someone might prefer to sacrifice that ability if they think it's wrong to use it to begin with (McCain doesn't) or if they shortsightedly think they'll retain the majority forever (which is pretty dumb), but please don't act as if someone who makes the wrong choice on that is a traitor to conservatism for wanting to get more conservative judges appointed than seemed likely. Keep in mind McCain's motivation. Dobson refuses to do so.

McCain "has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language".

True enough. Is that going to count as a serious criterion from a hardcore pro-life, nearly single-issue voter (as evidenced by his refusal to support Giuliani if he had won the nomination)? I can't see how this should count at all when the serious issues Dobson has against Clinton and Obama are at stake. If abortion is morally equivalent to murder, and the top priority of pro-life voters is to stop the tragic allowance of such evil, how relevant is it that the candidate most likely to be able to do anything about it uses foul language and gets angry pretty easily? If Dobson thinks opposing a foul-mouthed, angry presidential candidate is so all-important that it's worth refusing to do what he can (which is a fair amount given his influence) to prevent a president who will blithely dismiss all concerns for preventing the equivalent of the murder of millions of people, then his moral priorities are seriously screwed up. If abortion is indeed equivalent to murder, then a candidate's language shouldn't make the list of important considerations.

I've been taken to task in the past for criticizing Dobson on this (see the comments here). I'll let those comments stand as my justification for my willingness to do this despite recognizing all that he's done that I appreciate. I will note, though, that this instance seems even worse than the one I was criticizing before, because at least Giuliani really is pro-choice. Dobson is well-meaning, but I can't see how his comments serve the pro-life cause. They seem to me rather to be a betrayal of the very goals he wants to achieve, even more so on this occasion than the last time I took him to task over this.

18 Comments

Thanks for doing all that "homework". And on Ron Paul as well at (JT's). Very well written post.

Looks like McCain vs. Clinton to me. There's no way in the world I couldn't vote for McCain, not so much because of his presidential quality, but because, if we get Hillary, Man!, I believe our goose is cooked!

And it will be the sovereign Lord's hand of course. I pray the Lord would give our nation some mercy, and allow fo another pro-life president, and perhaps turn Roe vs. Wade around.

Hi Jeremy,

Re: stem cell research. I don't suppose you've heard of this recent development, have you? Any thoughts?

Thanks,

patrick

I hadn't heard of that case, Patrick. That's interesting.

What changed McCain's mind was the recent development of embryonic stem cells without destroying any embryos.

I'm not a McCain guy. I am with Huckabee, and plan to stick with him as long as he's in the race.

Having said that, I'm not in favor of slander, smears, or anything of the sort ... even if they should bring pro-lifers to my candidate.

Dr. Dobson really has never forgiven Sen. McCain for McCain-Feingold, but that can't be the biggest issue for me. I could live with John McCain as President.

I've not heard that Dobson was going to vote for Hillary or Obama.

I'd only heard he was not going to vote in the general election.

Yes, that's the thing. Not voting in the general election (and by a very public example leading others to do the same) will take away an awful lot of support McCain would otherwise be able to get against Clinton or Obama. In other words, it's willful prevention of the one thing that (at that point) would be able to prevent the Democratic nominee from winning.

But I think Jeremy you are misrepresenting Dr. Dobson right from start. In the first paragraph (I guess we all present things the way we see things.)
Dr. Dobson does not prefer a pro choice president. Come on Nice misrepresentation. Hardly going off the deep end Parable guy you repeat the misrepresentation right at the start
Quote
"he's stuck using John McCain's lukewarm but consistently pro-life views as an excuse to prefer a pro-choice president to a pro-life one
No He's a man of principle and at this point is not compromising. Maybe if conservatives get strong assurance about some issues....
Next"
"Mcain did not support a constitutional amendment to support marriage "is a true statement and he Mccain has done nothing to lead on making it law outside of the constituition to my knowledge .So what Dr. Dobson said is true. Yes there is more to the issue but check out youtube where Mcain flip flops on Gay marriage within minutes on a Chris Matthews show.

It is true that Mcain voted for embryonic stem cell research to kill embryos. Again not a lie. But they would have been killed anyway....argument . Say the Allies finding Jews headed for slaughter in WW2 said the Jews were gonna be slaughtered anyway so.. let them be killed.. Some people stand on principle and see certain stands as compromise.. Not perfect analagy but you get the point

Theres a lot more to say to document Dr. Dobsons points but typing is often difficult and hurts
YouTube - John McCain Flip Flops on Gay Marriage
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeBw28tX5Nw#

"McCain can win over most conservatives, but their support is not his by right. They will rally to him if he demonstrates that he believes that a broad range of conservative policies are among the things that are, to quote the title of one of his books, worth the fighting for. " National Review

Paul, now it's you who are misrepresenting me. Don't just quote the conclusion of my argument while ignoring the argument itself. The argument is that not voting when there's a contest between a pro-life candidate and a pro-choice candidate means you have no preference between them, and it means you're unwilling to oppose the pro-choice candidate when you have the ability to do so. You're right that it doesn't mean he actually likes Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama more than he likes John McCain, but I never claimed he does. What I said was about his action, not his attitude. His action prefers those he could have voted against by not voting against them, and the whole point was that such an action is in opposition to his view. So it doesn't do to claim that I think he's favoring the pro-choice candidate. My whole point was that his action is at odds with his view.

I'm not sure why you're pretending that the only point I had to make was about the truth of his statements. As should be clear from a close reading of my post, some of the points he said were false. Others were misleading. A third set were true but did not count as good reasons to oppose McCain. You select an example in the third category and then claim that I was putting it in the first category. I don't see where I did that.

Ah, so you bring out the extremely lame and disingenuous criticism of McCain's perfectly coherent set of comments on Chris Matthews. Sorry to break it to you, but I pointed out the ridiculous nature of such claims over a year ago. I'm not going to rehearse it, but it should be clear to anyone thinking carefully about what he says that he says pretty much the same thing on both sides of that commercial break.

Your Nazi example is disanalogous. An analogous case would be the following. Suppose you discovered that some people were going to be executed, and there was nothing you could do to stop it. But they're organ donors, and you can at least put their hearts and lungs to good use as a medical doctor. Would you do so? My claim is that it would be immoral not to.

Thanks Paul for the YouTube. Homosexual Marriage!? It makes no sense whatsoever.
To men can not marry. Two women can not marry. It's impossible.
Marriage is a man and a women, a husband and a wife. Pure and simple. McCain is very week on this, and I don't understand why.

The people booed him. So what. If you say what pleases the Lord, it may cause some boos today in our sin filled culture.

And thanks for your thoughts too. Well taken.

McCain is opposed to gay marriage, as I pointed out in my post over a year ago. What he doesn't have any problem is if people choose to go have some ceremony. He just doesn't think the government should endorse the view that it's marriage.

While I fully understand the angst of Conservatives in their policy opposition to John McCain blunders like Illegal immigration, Conservatives are beginning to amaze me in their inability to see the larger picture.

While I also disagree with McCain on a dozen issues or so, the alternative is not just four years of 'sitting it out' as some have proposed.

Many talk radio hosts have battled a McCain nomination. Even Focus On The Family Director Dr. Dobson (who I admire ) has declared his refusal to vote for McCain.

This astonishes me because it’s the same as saying “if we don’t get the conservative I want, We’ll let the country go to hell in a hand basket.”

This, in my opinion is very dangerous and makes our future prospects harder - since our children will be growing up in the aftermath of such a decision.

Anti McCain pundits and commentators such as Rush Limbaugh have ventured the idea that perhaps we should sit this election out and let the Dems have a term in office, claiming it might pave the way for a future shot at a candidate he and others will like in four years.

While I understand these expressions of dismay, I think it’s shortsighted. Imagine the damage our country will endure if Democrats control all three branches of government for 4 to 8 years. .

This would give liberals what they will treat as a clear sign from America that is it ready to move sharply to the left. Conservatism will lose most of it’s teeth and the liberal agenda could easily reverse all of the progress we’ve made in the war on terror, Tax reduction, Pro Life, and other extremely important issue.

We can always address the issue of immigration again in 4 years. What we cannot afford to see happen is a liberal agenda that makes illegal immigration the least of our country’s problems. Our country may be so torn up, it won’t have the time to even visit the issue, like we can today.

There is no such thing as a quick recovery from 4 years of liberalism unchecked. We may be facing what will take years and years of damage to undo. What’s more, there’s no guarantee that it WILL be undone. The passage of even one single liberal law is extremely difficult to outlaw - as if Roe V Wade hasn’t taught us this already!

Rush Limbaugh and others may revel in 4 years of liberal destruction as a talk radio host who can use the material, however all it takes is one liberal judge appointed to the Supreme Court to unravel the one ace we’ve achieved in the last 8 years. This doesn’t occur to me as a smart decision for Conservatives to be making..

As Evangelical Conservatives know, Pride cometh before the fall, and I hope they will study that verse before deciding to approach this election with dismay rather than enthusiasm.

Questioning McCain was right and highly useful for a time and a season. But there are greater threats looming on our horizon than John McCain.

It’s time to put our differences aside and get with the business assuring our children, they will not grow up in a socialist, liberally dominated world. This may be our cross roads, and it is certainly no time to be staying home on Election Day.

Danny Vice
The Weekly Vice
http://weeklyvice.blogspot.com

ThaLunatic Daily
http://thalunatic.blogspot.com

I like Dobson, but he became kind of irrelevant to me years ago. I was a stay-at-home dad for 14 years, and now only work part-time to make sure someone is still home with them after school. I have 5 kids, (4 teens now) two adopted with special needs, and I home schooled one of them during middle school.

Dobson is a good and godly man, but he domesticated Jesus and aligned him and sometimes confused him with the values he had growing up in America's Golden Age.

I knew what I was doing was right since my wife is an engineer and much better able to earn in the marketplace, but I could never listen to him without hating myself. He would never say it was wrong for me to stay home and my wife work, but everything he wrote indited it by strong implication.

I know you're not bashing Dobson, and I respect how you handle your difference in views. I just want you to know that there are other evangelical Christians who respect Dobson but disagree with him. Sometimes it feels like Dobson is our litmus test.

Bo, it's perfectly consistent to hold the following two views:

1. Ideally (and more often than not), young children (before school age) are best cared for full-time by mothers rather than fathers or day care workers.
2. In certain situations, kids will be best off either in day care or with dads serving as full-time parents while moms earn the lion's share or a significant portion of the family income.

I'm pretty sure I'd endorse both of those claims, and I was under the impression those were Dobson's views. I don't know your exact situation, but I can certainly see situations when I'd favor a situation that may well be like yours, so I don't think holding the first view counts as indicting the second view. I'm fairly sure Dobson wouldn't deny the second view, in fact, given what I have heard from him over the years. My parents had an arrangement like that for a while, and my co-blogger Wink is also in a similar situation, and I have no problem with either case while still endorsing the first claim.

James Dobson has a great message about Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, the only way to heaven.
Why does it take at least 5 minutes of his focus on the family show to introduce James D as if he is the hero of Gods veiws. James ""Please focus on God our father, Jesus Christ our savior, and the Holy Spirit to act within our minds and Hearts and forget totally about yourself. To judge John McCain and not vote at all is a severe backlash of everything JB preaches every election event. James D. states it is a God given right and duty to vote. How does this exclude James Dobson.
Thanks for reading this and please vote. God will deal and provide guidence (if we all pray for this) with the president, that he already knows will preside over our country next January.

If there's anything false being depicted here, it isn't in anything Dobson said. "As is often the case in a narrowly divided legislative body, McCain was willing to compromise on a few more conservative nominees for the sake of a much larger group of pretty conservative nominees."

This ignores the fundamental point: The GOP controlled Senate HAD the opportunity to go nuclear and call the Democrats out and make an example of them for their shameful conduct which *they* are responsible for initiating with regard to judicial nominees. Principled conservatives, of which it is abundantly clear McCain is not, would have chosen to fight Ted Kennedy, Pat Leahy and the garbage they've gotten away with for years and said "No more filibusters of nominees who have a majority of support." Instead, McCain along with Lindsey Graham chose to sabotage a winning argument and give cover for the liberal Democrats and win adulation from the liberal media for their alleged courage to face down conservative extremism. The argument that this was to preserve a principle Republicans might need if they found themselves in the minority one day is a laughable one considering the track record of deference by the GOP to Democrat nominees, especially for the likes of people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who *should* have been opposed. The Gang of 14 deal ultimately served the interests of one party only: The Democrats. And trying to whitewash that with some hogwash about McCain's "motivation" as an excuse to attack Dobson is both laughable and pathetic.

You're assuming that it would be a good idea for a GOP-controlled Senate to do such a thing. I know there are people who are convinced that the filibuster is in inherently bad thing, but I'm not one of them. The filibuster compensates for the fact that a majority in the Senate is achieved often by having one or two more senators of one party, when the minority party would have been in control had a few thousand more people voted differently in a few states. The Senate composition doesn't always reflect where the people are, and the minority in the Senate can accomplish a good deal with the filibuster, as the current GOP minority is happy to avail themselves of now that the warnings of people like McCain have come true.

As for future nominees, I doubt the current GOP minority will as a whole let people like Ginsburg through as easily now. There will be some dedicated to the principle of giving a president deference, but I suspect post-Bush that's not going to continue. There are too many consequences-based reasons why such a principle has to go given that Democrats won't respect it.

My reason for mentioning his motivation wasn't to justify or whitewash anything. It was to correct Dobson's false claim about McCain's motivation. What he listed as McCain's motivation wasn't McCain's actual motivation, and that counts as a pretty drastic misrepresentation.

Ginsburg isn't all that radical, by the way. She's nowhere near as liberal as Justices Marshall, Brennan, Douglas, or Blackmun were. On statutory interpretation without ideological significance, she often votes with Scalia and Thomas. In those cases she's more conservative than Kennedy. It's only on ideologically significant issues that she's liberal.

On the filibusters question ... you know, Republicans have been known to use the same tactic, in the same way. Now that the majority is Democratic, and the Democrats stand a very real chance of winning the White House, Republicans might well be glad that Sen. McCain stopped the "nuclear option" from going forward. I wonder if they'll consider forgiving him, then.

It's becoming clear that James Dobson is losing his influence, resulting from (apparently) losing his mind. In my conversation yesterday with a prominent psychologist friend of mine who has appeared on Focus on the Family with Dr. Dobson, this man's words were, essentially, "we're going to have to take on James Dobson in order to win this fight." That's sad, it's very sad, but a more textbook definition of "cutting off your nose to spite your face", I cannot imagine.

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