GUEST COMMENTARY: Dr. Dobson, hold your nose and support McCain

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c. 2008 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) As a husband and father of three young children, I genuinely admire family psychologist James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. I find his professional expertise _ leavened with wisdom and common sense _ helpful as we raise our family. His book, “Dare to Discipline,” is a frequent go-to as we struggle to keep our willful middle one in line.

So it’s disappointing when Dobson’s forays into the political arena lack that same wisdom and common sense.

I’m referring to his recent statement that he would sit out the general election rather than support Sen. John McCain as the Republican nominee. In making this statement, Dobson is joining an impressive list of high profile conservative talkers and pundits.

As an evangelical Christian, I share Dobson’s deep commitment to pro-life, pro-family issues. But make no mistake, to follow his example will seriously harm the values to which he professes commitment.

Dobson’s rationale fails to persuade. Among McCain’s alleged sins:

_ He has failed to “support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage.” Marriage has always been a matter for the states, and it is legitimate for proponents of traditional marriage to address it at that level rather than constitutionalizing it. It is disingenuous to imply that McCain is anything but staunchly pro-family; the differences are not substantive but strategic and involve the role of federalism. There must be room for good faith differences on the preferred means to achieve agreed-upon ends.

_ He has supported embryonic stem cell research. McCain has been consistently pro-life on abortion matters throughout his political career. Dobson’s criticism on the more morally ambiguous and complex issue of stem cell research is the intellectual equivalent of cutting off his nose to spite his face. The Democratic nominee will be uniformly and predictably pro-choice on abortion. Simply put, a chasm exists between McCain and either Democratic rival on pro-life issues. Dobson is, in effect, choosing to put one of those Democrats in a position to advance that pro-choice agenda.

_ McCain led the gang of 14 to preserve filibusters in judicial hearings. This is Dobson’s severest misjudgment. November could well bring a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. With multiple Supreme Court vacancies likely in the coming years, McCain’s pragmatism helped avoid a filibuster-less selection process that would have rendered Republicans utterly impotent. Moreover, the compromise guaranteed the elevation to the high court of Sam Alito, likely a solid conservative for decades to come on the issues of import to Dobson.

_ He has a “legendary temper and (uses) foul and obscene language.” This nearly provoked me to utter my own string of expletives. Apparently, Sen. McCain doesn’t play nice with others! If “niceness” were a prerequisite for public service, I’m not sure we as a nation could field a team.

Dobson’s sitting out the general election is only warranted if he honestly believes there is not a dime’s worth of difference between McCain and his Democrat opponent. The facts do not allow that conclusion. Obama is ranked the most liberal of all U.S. senators, according to the National Journal, and Hillary Clinton comes in at No. 16. McCain’s lifetime conservative rating is a solid 83 percent.

On Iraq, abortion, national security, deficits and restraining government spending, and a host of other issues, the differences are stark. Can Dobson honestly say McCain’s judicial selections would be no more sympathetic to Dobson’s agenda than those nominated by Democrats?

Not voting is not neutral, but enhances the Democrats’ chances of winning. It is a tacit acceptance of the Democratic agenda, a message Dobson cannot mean to send.

Lord knows, McCain is far from perfect. He’s had his share of questionable judgments in a 26-year congressional career, foremost among them the abominable McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms. But the hackneyed adage to not “let the perfect be the enemy of the good” applies. Dobson and those who share his sentiments must realize that 80 percent of a loaf is a good deal better than none at all.

So Dr. Dobson, please reconsider. Should McCain be elected president, use your considerable influence to hold him accountable; push back when necessary. Hold your nose, if you must, but pull that lever. If you don’t, you are only easing the path to victory by someone who will not think twice about spurning all that you represent and advocate.

(David Ryden is a professor and chair of the political science department at Hope College in Holland, Mich.)


A photo of David Ryden is available via

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