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.