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Dobson and his sheeple

There’s a very good article in the Palm Beach Post on Focus on the Family’s Daddy Dobson. It’s worth reading the whole thing. It helps shed light on why he’s so popular with the masses. It does help that way too many people out there don’t have a lot of brain cells to rub together, but it’s Dobson’s radio broadcasts and resources on child-rearing that have built his loyal, I’d say fanatical following.

The piece is part puffery, part sarcasm, but what is scary are the comments from clueless parents who just can’t figure out why Daddy Dobson’s advice just isn’t working.

Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, an evangelical ministry, is known in Washington as a warrior for the religious right — relentless, ruthless and dangerous to cross. He’s so influential that White House adviser Karl Rove rushed to line up his support for the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court by personally reassuring him of her conservatism.

But if the political world treats Dobson as a power broker, to millions of Americans he is simply a friend. In daily radio broadcasts, monthly newsletters, 18 Web sites, nine magazines and 36 top-selling books, Dobson offers advice on toilet training, temper tantrums, infidelity and other stresses of family life. At the heart of his ministry is the toll-free resource line he has run for more than a quarter-century.

The calls to (800) A-FAMILY are personal, not political. Yet over the decades, the hot line has bolstered Dobson’s influence in the Capitol by cultivating millions of grateful, reverentially loyal constituents. It also has emboldened him to use that clout to push a conservative social agenda.

In those thousands of calls, we believe we’re seeing the unraveling of the social fabric of this country,” said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy.

Focus on the Family gets almost 10,000 calls, e-mails and letters every day. Most are book orders or other purchases from the vast ministry warehouse. But up to 1,000 a day are more complex: Requests for help researching topics such as depression and divorce, or pleas from despairing men and women seeking Dobson’s advice.

…”I don’t know where else to go,” one young mother told social worker Sarah Helus, breaking down as she described her headstrong 3-year-old. “I’ve tried spanking him with a switch like Dr. Dobson says, but it hasn’t been effective. I’ve tried explaining to him that mommy and daddy make mistakes, too, and we all have to ask Christ’s forgiveness. Nothing works. And I just lose it.”

As her son howled in the background, the woman said she had read three of Dobson’s parenting books, including The Strong-Willed Child several times. They hadn’t much helped, but she hadn’t lost faith. She begged for a few minutes to ask Dobson how, precisely, she should respond if her son throws a fit in Wal-Mart.

Helus told her gently that Dobson doesn’t take calls. But his wisdom on scores of topics is loaded into two computers on every assistant’s desk.

…Now, Helus scanned Dobson’s writings on tantrums. “Dr. Dobson has said that kids like this are often really, really bright,” she soothed. Glancing through a databank of book reviews, Helus recommended several parenting texts. Then she suggested a free phone session with one of the ministry’s 16 licensed counselors, who handle 1,300 of the most serious calls each week.

Does what they say correspond with what Dr. Dobson would say?” the mother asked anxiously. “Because I love Dr. Dobson.”

Urging listeners to take control of their children, Dobson advocates spanking, though never in anger. He acknowledges that marriage is hard but opposes divorce in almost every situation. He teaches that homosexuality can be overcome with discipline and prayer.

…When Dobson breaks from his family-advice format to talk politics on the air — which he does only a few times a month — “you’re going to pay attention because you know Dr. Dobson cares about you and wants to make a difference in your life,” Hetrick said.

A recent poll for PBS found that 77 percent of white evangelicals view Dobson favorably. Other Christian leaders were far less widely trusted; Pat Robertson’s approval rating stood at 55 percent and Jerry Falwell’s at 46 percent.

Also see — Dobson: gay marriage will lead to getting hitched to a donkey

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding