James Dobson is at it again. After blacklisting virtually the entire Republican field of presidential candidates, the founder of Focus on the Family is continuing to shift his focus away from the family and onto presidential politics. Dobson met with about fifty powerful Christian leaders in Salt Lake City earlier today, including 2000 presidential candidate Gary Bauer and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, to discuss the possibility of supporting a pro-life third party candidate should Giuliani earn the Republican Party’s nomination. The group met unofficially under the umbrella of a powerful, secretive organization called the Council for National Policy. The group was formed in 1981 by “Left Behind” author and pastor Tim LaHaye as a non-profit organization to benefit the public good, but over the years has gradually become more and more exclusive and tight-lipped about its internal goings-on.
While the group houses some extremist wings of Christian conservatism (i.e. theocrats and Christian Reconstructionists, who advocate abolishing the U.S. Constitution and replacing it with ancient Biblical Law), that is only one wing of the organization. There are many intelligent and reasonable figures in the group who care more about lowering taxes and reducing the size of the federal government than they do about establishing a neofascist theocracy in the States, and many members who are quite friendly toward Rudy Giuliani in particular (televangelist Pat Robertson, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, and NRA Exec. VP Wayne LaPierre being notable examples). However, James Dobson has arisen as a sort of leader of a more extreme brand of CPN’s conservative Christian movers-and-shakers who would actually advocate introducing a third party candidate who would have basically the exact same platform as a Republican nominee Giuliani, but would just be farther to the right on the abortion issue.
First of all, the CPN’s own description hails itself as a “an educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code” that explicitly does not “support candidates, or issue public policy statements on controversial issues.” So, perhaps, Dobson and Co. should be careful where they tread while meeting under the umbrella of the CPN.
Second of all, the folly of a major third party conservative candidate who would basically be a carbon copy of Rudy Giuliani, except for being to the right of Rudy on abortion, should be self-apparent, but apparently it’s not. At least not to people like Dobson, Perkins, and Bauer.
It should be understood that the office of the United States President has remarkably little influence on abortion policy. Of the few things that a Commander in Chief can do on the issue, signing the rare pro-life legislation that happens to come through the Oval Office, putting conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and using the bully pulpit and sparse powers to generally discourage abortion and promote adoption as an alternative are about it. The most important of those tasks is arguably the appointment of Supreme Court justices. But other than that, the real battle for the lives of the unborn is taking place not in the White House but in the minds and hearts of individuals across America.
Yet, even in those rare areas of overlap between a President’s constitutional powers and the realm of abortion policy, Rudy Giuliani, though personally pro-choice, sides with conservatives on every policy matter. The former Mayor has voiced outspoken support for keeping the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City policy (which ban virtually all federal funding for abortion) in tact, enforcing parental notification laws, and keeping the landmark Partial Birth Abortion Ban law on the books. And, of course, on the key issue–that of judicial nominations–Rudy lets us know exactly what kind he’ll appoint: strict constructionists (a judicial perspective which almost invariably leads the perspective-holder to oppose Roe v. Wade as unconstitutional). And just to be sure there’s no confusion, Rudy has specifically named John Roberts, Sam Alito, and Antonin Scalia as “ideal” justices. And just to be sure that we’re sure, Rudy also formed a judicial advisory committee to guide him on such matters that includes such sterling names as former Solicitor General Ted Olson (recently considered for Atty. Gen. by Bush), Michael Mukasey (recently picked for Atty. Gen. by Bush), Steve Calabresi (founder of the Federalist Society), Miguel Estrada (2001 Court nominee), and Maureen Mahoney (commonly known in conservative circles as “the female John Roberts”), among many others in that stripe. Finally, Rudy isn’t just settling for the status quo, but is making a promise to significantly reduce abortions in America by working with faith-based groups (like, oh, say, Focus on the Family perhaps?) to promote adoption instead of abortion and to make sure pregnant women are fully-informed before making a decision.
So, wait, if Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican Party nomination, James Dobson is threatening to organize an effort to support a third party candidate who would be virtually identical to Rudy Giuliani on presidential policy matters, including abortion, with the only difference being that this third party candidate would get to those same policy conclusions as Rudy by a political reasoning that was just more in line with James Dobson’s?
Seeing how ridiculous this is, yet? If not, think about what it could mean. If enough conservative votes are siphoned from Giuliani, we’re going to get a Democrat in the White House. One who will probably not sign the Hyde Amendment or the Partial Birth Abortion Ban law if it comes across their desk. One who will pack the Supreme Court with liberal justices, setting pro-lifers back decades on the quest against Roe. One who will offer platitudes about abortion unfortunately being a necessary evil, but will have no motivation to actually try to reduce abortions. All this to stop a President Giuliani, who will defend all of the hard-earned successes of the pro-life movement in the last 30 years, who will put more Robertses, Alitos, and Scalias on the Court, and who won’t just say that abortions should be “rare,” but will actually do something to make them rare (and will even get federal abortion statistics up to date so the American People can hold him accountable on this promise!).
People like Dobson must come to understand that the abortion issue isn’t just politics. It’s not just some battle of abstract ideas. There are actual, real, living, thinking, feeling human lives at stake, here! Throwing a temper tantrum (which is exactly what this is) by using your vast wealth and influence to sabotage the significantly more pro-life-friendly of the two major American political parties, just because your favorite candidate didn’t win would be a disaster. And it will not be nearly as much of a disaster for the GOP as it will be for millions of unborn children across America who would be spared the fate of abortion under a President Giuliani, but not under a President Rodham.
Perhaps we forget that even Abraham Lincoln did not originally favor the passage of federal laws to abolish slavery. While he was personally opposed to slavery as a matter of private choice, he for a long time felt that the institution was a necessary evil of sorts that would have to be gradually phased out over a long period of time. Even in the early stages of the Civil War, Lincoln thought it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to mandate the immediate abolition of slavery. Though Lincoln said he personally “hated slavery,” he for a long time thought it practically necessary to keep legal (sound like anyone else we know?).
Basically, what James Dobson is proposing doing today would be the equivalent of if the Radical Republicans in 1860 had run a major third party right-wing candidate in opposition to the fellow right-wing Abraham Lincoln just because he wasn’t a hardcore enough abolitionist. Imagine if they had actually done this and John Breckenridge had been elected President instead of Abraham Lincoln. This country would likely be a very different place today if that had happened.
The importance of the Republican Party remaining both the pro-life party and the big tent party cannot be overstated. The GOP must remain united, even if Rudy Giuliani is nominated. Why? Because Rudy Giuliani sides with pro-lifers on all the actual policy matters that a United States President can touch, even if he gets there through a different line of reasoning. That’s the whole meaning of the big tent party! We can have people with different views, but ultimately, our goals point in the same direction. And that is the only way we will ever see our goals accomplished. Pro-lifers will see much of their hard-earned success erased away if we disunite.
And yet, Rudy Giuliani is not the real danger here. Almost every poll shows that Rudy remains the favorite of we evangelical and social conservative voters. As he should. Rudy Giuliani is our best hope to continue the success of the pro-life movement. If you were to ask me what I really believe, I don’t think a third party challenge by an uber-pro-life candidate will cost Giuliani the general election when all is said and done. I think pro-life voters are sophisticated and intelligent enough not to embark on such a stupid venture. And I should know–I speak with average, normal pro-life Republicans every day, and, heck, I am one. The vast majority of pro-lifers who are motivated enough to get up and go to the ballot box are also motivated enough to really think objectively and pragmatically about their best option in 2008.
No, the real danger is not Rudy Giuliani.
The real danger is, surprisingly, people like James Dobson. Big-wigs like Dobson have political power, influence, loads of money, and probably most importantly, spiritual and emotional sway.
Rudy Giuliani will not split the GOP. But James Dobson might.