Dobson And Destiny: Will Religious Right Leader Turn His Focus To Electioneering?

Tomorrow's media narrative could easily be that the conservative fire breathers are back.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family (FOF), is not a happy camper these days.

"What is happening in Washington right now is my greatest nightmare," Dobson said during a recent radio broadcast. He opined that everything he has worked on for 25 years is "coming apart.... It's unbelievable what's taking place."

In separate remarks while accepting an award from the secretive right-wing Council for National Policy, Dobson blamed his discontent on President Barack Obama.

Obama, Dobson said, "does not seem to understand anything that Ronald Reagan stood for.... I don't believe there is a single policy decision that Barack Obama has made that I agree with, and many of them are terrifying in their implications."

Dobson added, "We are in greater danger right now, I think, than at any time since the Civil War. We have to use all of our fight for the things we believe."

Is Dobson so discouraged that he plans to step away from the action?

The Associated Press reported on Saturday that Dobson is cutting formal ties with Focus on the Family. At the end of February, he will stop doing his daily radio show and cease mailing monthly letters to supporters.

Dobson had earlier turned day-to-day management of Focus over to Jim Daly, the group's new president. Daly, 48, shares Dobson's views on social issues but seems to lack his edge.

Dobson has been a major voice in the Religious Right for decades. Under his guidance, FOF expanded from a homegrown project into a major political powerhouse and a significant influence on the culture. The organization occupies a campus of buildings in Colorado Springs, and in 2007, it brought in more than $145 million. FOF broadcasts are heard all over the world – even in communist China.

Dobson may be stepping away from some of his FOF duties, but I don't believe that means he's giving up on the "culture war." In fact, dropping the daily radio broadcast and other duties may very well free up Dobson to pursue his latest passion – intervening in partisan elections in an effort to make sure the "right" people are elected.

A few years ago, Dobson began issuing endorsements of Religious Right-approved political candidates. He supposedly did these as an individual, not through his tax-exempt ministry. Liberated from his FOF duties entirely, Dobson will be free to travel the country, speaking at rallies and organizing far-right voters on behalf of House, Senate, gubernatorial and other candidates. The Dobson stamp of approval could become a much-sought commodity for aspiring right-wing candidates.

One other thing makes me skeptical that Dobson is stepping back: Over the years, I've heard other Religious Right leaders claim they're dropping political activity – and then they don't. TV preacher Jerry Falwell made that announcement more than once, and Pat Robertson once said he would stop broadcasting on television. Neither followed through. They are, moth like, drawn to politics.

I expect Dobson will be politically active too.

Today is Election Day in some states. Religious Right allies are expected to do well in Virginia and New York, and a Maine referendum on same-sex marriage is too close to call.

Some pundits pronounced the Religious Right -- and the conservative movement in general -- dead after Obama's election. I was skeptical. A single election rarely changes the political landscape that dramatically.

Tomorrow's media narrative could easily be that the conservative fire breathers are back. The base has spoken, the TEA Party crowd is fired up and the next target will be the 2010 mid-term elections.

Anyone who thinks a theocrat like Dobson is going to sit out this donnybrook is dreaming. He may stop the radio broadcasts, but that doesn't mean we've heard the last of Dr. James Dobson.