Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Focus on Dobson & Perkins

The Christian Right's staging of Justice Sunday II provides an opportunity to learn more about the men and women behind this event and the people they are presenting as exemplars of Christian values. Let's focus on the principals, James Dobson and Tony Perkins (and for the others, check out the very useful backgrounder on the speakers at Justice Sunday published by People for the American Way.)

James Dobson the founder and caudillo of Focus on the Family will deliver a prerecorded video message to this second rally for religious supremacism. (He appeared in person at the first Justice Sunday.) Dobson, who may be the most powerful Christian Right leader in the country, routinely uses his national radio broadcasts to demagogue his concerns about what he calls the "unelected and unaccountable and arrogant and imperious" judiciary. He claims judges are "determined to redesign the culture according to their own biases and values, and they're out of control...."

Dobson could more accurately say these things about himself: he is unelected and far less accountable for his words and actions than judges at any level. Federal judges are vetted through a rigorous process, and ultimately our elected Senators get to decide who merits a lifetime appointment to a federal judgeship. Dobson wants to reduce that rigor in order to pack the federal bench with as many Christian Right nominees as he and his fellow theocrats can squeeze out of the Bush administration.

Interestingly, in the run up to the first Justice Sunday, Dobson (who is given to rhetorical excesses) compared the Supreme Court to the Ku Klux Klan, and when called on the inappropriateness of the analogy, he later backpeddaled. But if Dobson were actually concerned about the Klan, he could probably get some inside information from the man he hired to run the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins. (The FRC was originally the official lobbying arm of Focus on the Family and Dobson remains on the board of directors.)

Perkins came up through the FOF farm team of state level family policy councils -- state think tanks and political and legislative advocacy groups that function much like FRC does in Washington. (For a detailed discussion of these groups, see my 1999 report in The Public Eye magazine, published by Politcal Research Associates, titled Takin' it to the States: The Rise of Conservative State Level Think Tanks.) Perkins founded and headed the Louisiana Family Forum before Dobson tapped him to head the FRC.

"During his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 2002 information surfaced about Perkins’ willingness to associate with racist groups," according to the People for the American Way profile. "During that campaign, Perkins addressed the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, successor to the White Citizens Councils, which battled integration in the South. In 1996, Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for Woody Jenkins, a right-wing Republican candidate for the US Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke."

Dobson hired Perkins to head the FRC in 2003 after Perkins unsucessful 2002 run for the Senate when the Duke connections surfaced.

Max Blumenthal published a detailed account of Perkins secret dealings with Duke in The Nation following the first Justice Sunday. As I commented at the time: "The Christian Right has a long and shifty history with white supremacist groups in the U.S. Certainly many do not and never have embraced racism. Others play ball."

Throughout American history, racial and religious supremacism have often been deeply intertwined. The racism of the Klan and others has often been justified in terms of Christianity. And many contemporary conservative Christians, (including Ralph Reed) have acknowleged that conservative Christians were generally either on the wrong side, or on the sidelines, of the struggle for racial justice in the U.S. And just as that history informs the present, so does the history of the role of the federal courts in ordering the racial desegregation of society, having determined that racial discrimination in all of its forms was and is unconstitutional. Just a generation ago, the leaders of "massive resistance" to the racial integration of the public schools routinely denounced the federal judiciary as unelected tyrants in black robes. This is the same rhetoric we hear today from the leaders of the Christian Right and their allies in Congress.

Consider this history when we hear Tony Perkins making claims like federal judges have not only "become hostile to Christianity" but that "they pose a worse threat to this country than terrorists," and when James Dobson compares the Supreme Court to the Ku Klux Klan.



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