Dick Armey: “When it comes to James Dobson, my personal experience has been that the man is most interested in political power.”
In the midst of this big fight with Evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson, Dick Armey has released a truly remarkable letter. In it, he outlines the personal reasons behind his characterization of Dobson as a “bully,” and he also offers a stunningly coherent outline of just where the Religious Right has gone wrong in recent years. I got this via email — and I don’t see it up on the Freedom Works site yet — so I want to take the step of reproducing it in full (bold added):
Christians and Big Government
Why faith requires freedom
There was a day when social conservatives were united with economic conservatives in the belief that small, limited government was not only good for our economy and the prosperity of American families, but essential to protect traditional family values. We all fought for a limited federal government — a government that had the decency to respect the American people by staying out of their lives. Small government meant that all Christians could practice their faith as they saw fit. Big government violates those rights by meddling in our lives, misusing our hard-earned money, and dictating cultural norms to us. We were and are rightly outraged when government imposes wrong-headed values through its monopoly of schools, government-funded “art,” and taxpayer funded “family planning.”
As a united conservative movement, we win when we defend traditional values against big government pretensions to impose its brand of “morality” on the American people. We lose when we attempt to use government power to impose our values on others.
I am a devout Christian. I am a so-called “values voter.” As a member of Congress and as Majority Leader, I believe I faithfully served our values. One of my proudest moments in Congress was beating the Democrats’ attempts to meddle in the affairs of families that had chosen to opt out of secular government education by home-schooling their children. I took on the entire political establishment, but we only won because thousands of Christian home-schoolers demanded that Congress keep its nose out of their decision to raise and educate their children as they saw fit.
I am also a free market economist by training, and I believe that economic freedom is vitally important in the defense of the American family. Big issues like retirement security, tax reform, school choice and spending restraint will determine whether or not families will be dependent and subservient to government. Who owns your retirement? Who decides how you provide for your family’s future. Can you leave your estate to your grandchildren, or is it the government’s? Will the government socially engineer your life through the tax code? Will liberal education bureaucrats determine your child’s education? These are all issues that used to matter to the political leadership of Christian conservative voters.
And while for most in the Christian conservative movement these issues still resonate, the same cannot be said for some of our Washington, D.C.-based religious leaders. Right after I had left Congress and joined FreedomWorks, we found ourselves embroiled in a major tax fight in Alabama. Oddly, an old friend, Bob Riley, had been elected governor only to immediately reverse course, cut a deal with the teachers union, and advocate a massive tax increase to prop up the failing government school system. It was “what Jesus would do,” he said. I took personal offense to that, as did many of the voters who had just worked so hard to elect him Governor. Our activists had joined forces with local Christian conservatives, including the Alabama Christian Coalition, to fight both bad policy and a sense of personal betrayal.
We were blindsided when the national leadership of the Christian Coalition endorsed the Governor’s proposed tax increase, joining forces with liberal interests in the state that had actively worked against our values for a generation. In the end we won, thanks in no small part to the fact that members of the local Christian Coalition chapter parted ways with the national organization and stood with Alabama FreedomWorks, the Alabama Policy Institute, local taxpayer organizations, and a host of other small government advocates all united in the effort to stop a big government tax-hike scheme.
Today, the national Christian Coalition has joined forces with MoveOn.org in another government grab of private property dealing specifically with ownership of the Internet. They are wrong on the specifics of the issue, and they are wrong to associate with and comfort radical liberals who have demonstrated nothing but disdain for conservative values. Armey’s Axiom: Make a deal with the Devil, and you are the junior partner.
Another Armey’s Axiom says that if it is about power, you lose. And unfortunately when it comes to James Dobson, my personal experience has been that the man is most interested in political power.
As Majority Leader, I remember vividly a meeting with the House leadership where Dobson scolded us for having failed to “deliver” for Christian conservatives, that we owed our majority to him, and that he had the power to take our jobs back. This offended me, and I told him so.
In a later meeting Dobson and a colleague came into my office to lobby against a trade bill, asking me to stop the legislation from going to the House floor. They were wrong on the issue, and I told them no. Would you at least postpone the vote, they asked? We have a direct mail fundraising letter about to go out to our membership, they said.
I wondered then if their opposition to the bill was driven less by their moral compass and more by the need to rile their membership and increase revenue. I wondered then, if these self-appointed Christian leaders, like many politicians, had come to Washington to do good, but had instead done well for themselves.
Dobson later ran an orchestrated campaign against me in my race to retain the Majority Leader post, telling my colleagues that I was not a good Christian. I prefer to leave that decision to Lord God Almighty on Judgment Day.
Maybe you can understand why I have recently been quoted referring to this person as a “bully.”
And it continues today, as Focus on the Family deliberately perpetuates the lie that I am a consultant to the ACLU. I have never had any relationship with the ACLU and oppose most of that organization’s work. The ACLU has twisted “civil liberty” to mean something quite the opposite.
Nowhere was it more wrong, with more disastrous policy ends, than in the Terri Schiavo intervention. While her case was heartbreaking, our Founders created a government built on checks and balances, not a nation run by an arbitrary and imperial Congress. Congress cannot simply override our entire state and federal legal system to intervene in one person’s situation. It was truly a chilling act.
Imagine the precedent-setting nature of such an action when a different House of Representatives, one with “Speaker Nancy Pelosi” wielding the gavel, holds power.
Freedom works. Freedom is a gift from God Almighty, and we have a responsibility to protect it. Christians face a temptation to power when we are fortunate enough to have a majority of support in Congress. But government can never advance a faith that is freely given, and it is corrosive to even try. Just look at Europe, where decades of nanny-state activism— including taxpayer support for churches and for religious political parties— have severely eroded the faith. In America today, too many of our Christian leaders fail to recognize the temptation to power and the danger it holds for our society and our faith.
And so America’s Christian conservative movement is confronted with this divide: small government advocates who want to practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government versus big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of “righteousness” on others through the hammer of law.
We must avoid the temptation to use the power of government to perfect our society and its citizens. That is the same urge that drives the Left and the socialists, and I can assure you that every program or power we give government today in the name of our values can be turned against us when the day comes where a majority of Congress is hostile to us.
Instead, we need to limit the sphere of government and create civil space where private institutions, individual responsibility and religious faith can flourish. By reducing the size of the welfare state, we increase the importance of the works of Christian charities and our church communities. By reducing the tax burden on families, we make it easier for Christian households to tithe or for young mothers to stay home to raise their children. The same is true for retirement security based on ownership. Reducing the ever-growing reach of the federal government means local communities, and more important, parents, are free to establish the standards and values for the education of their children.
Consider the welfare reform we passed in 1996. By reducing bureaucracy and dependency and emphasizing work and responsibility, we changed conditions for an entire segment of our society. Since welfare reform passed, teen pregnancy, welfare caseloads, and the number of abortions in America have all declined. That is the kind of policy change that values voters need to support, and it is the result of limiting government’s power over our lives.
Our movement must avoid the temptations of power and those who would twist the good intentions of Christian voters to support policies that undermine freedom and grow government. Freedom is what gives America its unique place in the world, and protecting and expanding our freedom is what creates the space necessary to keep our faith strong and growing.
The section I’ve highlighted in bold is particularly interesting. This is a guy who’s read his Frank Meyer.
Here are two quotes from Meyer’s “In Defense of Freedom”:
“No act to the degree that it is coerced can partake of virtue — or of vice.”
“If the state is endowed with the power to enforce virtue, the men who hold that power will enforce their own concepts as virtuous.”
Armey is right, of course. The Religious Right is divided from the Republican Party, but it is also divided against itself. Some still see the wisdom in Meyer’s words — to say nothing of those of the founders. Some, like Dobson and his cohort, are just here to do well — not to do good.
Armey can fight this fight because he no longer has to deal with these people on a regular basis or depend on them for reelection. How many in Congress feel the exact same way but stay quiet?
This dysfunctional relationship can work sometimes, but it will always be subject to flare ups. I think this year is definitely a flare-up year.
UPDATE: Freedom Works has posted the letter here.