Don’t expect Religious Right radio guru James Dobson to step out of politics any time soon, says a veteran observer of Focus on the Family (FOF).
Dobson did his last radio broadcast for FOF Feb. 26, but that doesn’t mean he’s leaving the public spotlight, author Dan Gilgoff asserts.
Gilgoff, author of The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America Are Winning the Culture War, told National Public Radio that Dobson’s departure may actually spark an increase in his politicking.
“I also think that it signals his desire to get a lot more political,” Gilgoff said. “What’s ironic about that, though, is because Dobson’s appeal to his radio listeners was never primarily political. It was always family based – he’s a psychologist dispensing advice on, you know, raising healthy families. The more political it got, the more he kind of scared off listeners that were coming to him for family advice. And so at this point he really wants to take it more in a political direction.”
Dobson announced last year that he would leave FOF and start doing a new radio broadcast with his son Ryan. The new program, called “Family Talk with James Dobson,” is scheduled to launch soon.
In recent years, Dobson has increased his political activity. He began issuing personal endorsements of candidates, most recently backing incumbent Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary in Texas.
Dobson, who turns 74 this month, built Focus on the Family from a shoestring outfit into a multi-million dollar operation.
Gilgoff noted that FOF isn’t as big as it used to be. Paid staff has dropped to about 860, down from a high of more than 1,400. Still, its budget is substantial, topping more than $145 million in 2008.
Despite the cutbacks at FOF, Gilgoff said he believes the organization’s impact has been substantial and that the group plays a key role in helping the Religious Right fight the culture war.
But not everyone is pleased with Dobson’s long record of activism. After his local newspaper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, ran a fawning editorial in February, it also published an online poll asking people for opinions on Dobson.
Only 18 percent agreed with the statement that Dobson has had a positive influence, while 75 percent said his influence was negative.