Told ya so!
Back in April, when Religious Right bigwig James Dobson announced his "retirement" from Focus on the Family, Americans United was skeptical. We pointed out that while Dobson was giving up some managerial duties, he still planned to broadcast over the radio, issue monthly letters to supporters and hand out political endorsements. It didn't look like much was changing.
Now Dobson has announced that instead of puttering around the house and playing golf, he is teaming up with his son, Ryan, to do a daily radio show called "James Dobson on the Family." Some retirement!
Dobson announced on Facebook that he will end the Focus on the Family broadcasts in February and will start broadcasting with Ryan the following month. The Associated Press reported, "He says his new show, which will air in March, will cover many of the same topics, including marriage, child-rearing and national issues."
In other words, we'll get the same extremism but on a different channel.
What's this all about?
My guess is that Dobson, who is really unhappy with the political situation right now, never intended to stop popping off about it. After all, gay people can get married in Iowa, abortion is still legal, some people continue to believe in evolution and not everyone is a right-wing, dogmatic fundamentalist Christian. There's lots of work to do!
I also believe Dobson is trying to give his son a boost by grooming him as his successor. Ryan Dobson runs his own ministry, which is designed to be hip and edgy and aimed at young people. But despite the skateboard-punk image he cultivates, the fact is that Ryan is pushing 40 and needs a real job. You don't hear much out of his ministry, and his 2007 book with the lovely title of Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid, didn't exactly burn up the bestsellers list.
Part of the problem may be that Ryan was hampered by a messy divorce he went through a few years ago. The Dobsons like to keep this under wraps, but Ryan's current wife is number two.
So what to do with this wayward son?
Well, hereditary succession is a common stunt among the Religious Right. Jerry Falwell passed his empire on to his two sons, Jerry Jr. and Jonathan. Pat Robertson's son, Gordon, is now a co-host of "The 700 Club." The ailing Don Wildmon of the American Family Association has turned over the reins to his son Tim. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition has appointed his daughter, Andrea Lafferty, director of the group.
Obviously, James Dobson will have to step down at some point. Until then, he can rant and rave alongside his son and build him up until he's ready to pass the mantle of most aggressive Religious Right leader to Ryan.
Will it work?
It's hard to say. Anyone who reads history knows that attempts to establish ruling dynasties can have mixed result. Just look at the emperors and kings of old. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was considered a conscientious administrator and philosopher-king. (His famous "Meditations" are still read today.) His son, Commodus, was a lunatic who believed he was Hercules reincarnated and fought alongside gladiators in the Coliseum.
We'll see how Ryan turns out. In the meantime, this announcement makes it clear we haven't heard the last from James Dobson. Alas, AU was right all along: His retirement isn't real, and Dobson is going to continue daring to discipline us for the foreseeable future.