Dobson preaches mixed message

Conservative leader criticizes, praises GOP leadership

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Standing before an enormous American flag in Mellon Arena, conservative evangelical activist James Dobson told thousands of supporters he was deeply disappointed in the nation's Republican leadership, but that the nation's future depended on re-electing them.

Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
James Dobson speaks during last night's Stand for the Family rally at the Mellon Arena.
Click photo for larger image.

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"I have flat-out been ticked at Republicans for the past two years," he said, to some applause from a crowd that arena security estimated at around 3,000.

However, he said, "This country is at a crisis point. Whether or not the Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are downright frightening."

Dr. Dobson, who has built an enormous following in three decades as a Christian radio psychologist, is renowned for his ability to turn out the conservative "values voters" who tipped the last election.

Although tax law forbids Dr. Dobson's Focus On The Family Action, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the rally, to endorse candidates, organizers said that last night's Stand for the Family Rally was held in Pennsylvania because of its high-profile U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey. Issue guides being distributed last night clearly favored Mr. Santorum. So Dr. Dobson's warning shot across the bow of the Republican Party was unexpected.

He accused the Republican House and Senate of "sitting on their hands" on key conservative social issues. He said they had squandered a growing public sentiment that abortion should be limited or banned.

But, he asked his audience to consider what would happen if Republicans lost control of key committees on education, the judiciary, and especially, the armed forces.

"We are at war in this country with an enemy who wants to destroy us," he said. He stressed that only a small minority of Muslims believe that their faith justifies violence, "but let's say 4 percent of Muslims want to kill us ... . That's 48 million people who want to bring us to our knees."

He compared those who want to negotiate their way out of crises in the Middle East to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who sought to appease Adolph Hitler prior to World War II.

But in a news conference, he said his call for "strength" against America's enemies was comparable to President Reagan's strategy against the former Soviet Union.

"He never rained atomic bombs or declared war. It was strength through preparedness," Dr. Dobson said.

Rally organizers had split the 17,000 arena with a curtain. It's central sections were packed, though the upper decks and farthest side sections were empty. Local conservative organizers had said before the rally that 3,000 was the maximum that such an event rally would ordinarily draw in Western Pennsylvania. Dr. Dobson thanked those who came for taking time out on a busy weeknight.

Many of those attending felt a bond with Dr. Dobson because of the family advice he had given them on his radio show. Trish Plakosh of Forest Hills pulled a copy of Dr. Dobson's book, "Bringing Up Boys," from her purse and gestured toward her 12-year-old son, Dylan.

"He has helped me raise Dylan in a Christian home with Christian values,'' said Ms. Plakosh, a Catholic. "I jumped at the chance to see him here."

Three black women sitting near her said they had listened to his radio program since their grown children were babies. They bristled at the suggestion that Dr. Dobson's public-policy agenda was not attuned to the concerns of the black family.

"He is not a racist," said Louise Smith of the Hill District. She still listens to his children's radio drama, "Adventures in Odyssey," and said she was thrilled that it recently ran a segment on slavery and the Underground Railroad.

"The younger children do not know that story today,'' she said. "Of course, with Dr. Dobson, you get to listen to what is affecting the Christian family. He gives us the information to make a stand, especially in voting."

One of the other featured speakers was a black pastor, the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, from Kirkland, Wash. When he was introduced as a former Seattle Seahawk the crowd booed good-naturedly, until he redeemed himself by waving a Terrible Towel, and launched into a sermon.

In the exhibit area of Mellon Arena, organizers gave away copies of Dr. Dobson's biography and his book on the debate over gay marriage. Other exhibits by local socially conservative organizations included written comparisons of Mr. Santorum and Mr. Casey, as well as a comparison of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and his challenger, Lynn Swann. The comparisons were produced by the regional anti-abortion lobby, LifePAC.

In summary, they described Mr. Santorum as a leader in the anti-abortion movement and Mr. Casey as someone who claims to oppose abortion but has no track record of doing so and who had received support from groups that favor abortion rights.

It described Mr. Swann as "pro-life'' and Gov. Rendell as "extremely pro-abortion."


Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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