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Jeffrey Feldman

Jeffrey Feldman

Posted: June 25, 2008 12:00 PM

Media Whitewashes Dobson, Hides 'Beat-Your-Child' Dogma


This week, right-wing pundit and leader of the 'beat your children' movement, Dr. James Dobson, accused Sen. Barack Obama of committing violence against Biblical teachings.

Despite Dobson being a best-selling self-help guru famous for advising parents to whip their children with sticks, every mainstream media outlet somehow managed to overlook this fact. Instead, media coverage of Dobson's remarks stripped him of any and all potential controversy with respect to his views on parenting and child beating, describing him instead with the vague and anodyne term 'Evangelical.'

True -- Dobson is a leading voice of sorts amongst some Evangelical Christians. Still, the question the media should be posing to the public is not about his religion, but about his violent views of parenting: Should a man who pushes parents to use pain to train their children have a prominent place in the 2008 presidental election or American politics at all?

Uh, no. It is high time that Americans of all political and religious persuasions looked Dr. James Dobson in the eye and said, "Leave us alone."

Americans do not believe that the the judicious application of pain is the key to good parenting.

In fact, Dobson's passionate belief that parents should beat their children as a way of showing their love for them is so disturbing to Americans that one wonders why a violence obsessed media would choose not to report it -- if only for cynical reasons.

Consider this quote from Dobson's best-selling parenting self-help book Dare to Discipline in which Dobson recounts the fanciful "story" he used to tel his children to explain why beating them was a sign of love and what would happen to them if they did not submit to his authority:

"I knew of a little bird who was in his next with his mommy. The mommy bird went off to find some worms to eat, and she told the little bird not to get out of the nest while she was gone. But the little bird didn't mind her. He jumped out of the nest and fell to the ground where a big cat got him. When I tell you to mind me, it is because I know what is best for you, just as the mommy bird did with her baby bird. When I tell you to stay in the front yard, it's because I don't want you to run in the street and get hit by a car. I love you, and I don't want anything to happen to you. If you don't mind me, I'll have to spank you to help you remember how important it is. Do you understand?" (p. 23, The New Dare To Discipline)

In other words, 'Listen to Daddy or a big cat will eat you,' and, 'If I spank you it's only because you made me.'

The deception in Dobson's parable of the little bird eaten by a cat, of course, is that it seems to be saying that only bad kids get spanked. Not true. The more we read of Dare to Discipline, the more it becomes clear that all children must be beaten in Dobson's universe. One cannot raise a healthy child, according to Dobson, without at some point breaking the so-called natural rebelliousness of the child by beating them -- preferably with an object that causes sharp and memorable pain. The converse is also true: in Dobson's violent vision of America, there is no such thing as a healthy, well-adjusted child who does not have fond memories of their first welt from mommy's wooden spoon or daddy's belt. Dobson recalls his own first moment of truly understanding how important discipline was in a story about disrespect, his mother, and a wire girdle loaded with metal clips and straps:

The day I learned the importance of staying out of reach shines like a neon light in my mind. I made the costly mistake of sassing her when I was about four feet away. I knew I had crossed the line and wondered what she would do about it. It didn't take long to find out. Mom wheeled around to grab something with which to express her displeasure, and her hand landed on a girdle.


Those were the days when a girdle was lined with rivets and mysterious panels. She drew back and swung the abominable garment in my direction, and I can still hear it whistling through the air. The intended blow caught me across the chest, followed by a multitude of straps and buckles, wrapping themselves around my midsection. She gave me an entire thrashing with one blow! But from that day forward, I measured my words carefully when addressing my mother. I never spoke disrespectfully to her again, even when she was seventy-five years old. (p. 23-24, The New Dare To Discipline)

Now...when I read about Dobson scaring his kids into thinking they will be eaten by a cat if they do not heed his authority -- or read him wax romantically about his mom wounding his midsection with a mid-century girdle -- the absolute last question that pops into my head is, "What can I do to make this man an influential figure in U.S. politics?"

Egads, no. Show this guy the door.

Unfortunately, the media seems hell-bent on ignoring Dobson's beat-your-children dogma -- what is truly shocking about him as a public figure -- to focus instead on manufacturing yet another boring story about Christians who, supposedly, reject the candidacy of the Democratic nominee for President.

Beyond the fact that this is just lazy reporting, it is also inaccurate.

According to a February study of voting patterns amongst religious voters conducted by The Barna Group, Evangelical support for Republican over Democratic Presidential candidates might have been the story in past elections, but not this time. In the election of 2008, the big story is that voters who self-identify as 'Born Again' -- who make up a significant voting block in the Presidential race -- have swung decisively for Obama:

In 1992, born again voters sided with Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush over Democratic challenger Bill Clinton by a 39% to 35% margin. In the 1996 election, born again voters again sided with the Republican candidate (Bob Dole) rather than the incumbent Democratic President Bill Clinton by a 49% to 43% margin. In the 2000 election, the born again constituency gave Republican nominee George W. Bush a resounding 57% to 42% margin over Democratic challenger Al Gore. In 2004, the born again segment again sided with George W. Bush, giving him a lopsided 62% to 38% preference over Democratic hopeful John Kerry.

In the past couple of elections, the born again vote represented about half of the total number of votes cast in the U.S. Given the razor thin margin of victory achieved by President Bush in 2000, and the close tally in 2004, the born again vote was vital in both of the Bush victories.

Compared to recent presidential elections, the current leanings of the born again constituency have reversed. The new Barna study shows that if the election were to be held today, 40% of all born again adults who are likely to vote in November would choose the Democratic candidate and just 29% would choose the Republican candidate. The remaining 28% are currently not sure whom they would choose, preferring to make their selection on the basis of the candidate than strictly on the basis of his or her party affiliation. ("Born Again Voters No Longer Favor Republican Candidates," Feb 4, 2008)

If this is the case -- if the big story this year is that born again votes support the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate, and that this swing could be the decisive change from 2000, 2004, and 2006, one wonders why America's major news outlets are all trying to twist the Dobson story into some overblown clash of cultures between Christians and Obama.

Is the media ignorant of who James Dobson really is? Are they lazy? Are they bored?

I have no idea, but I can promise you this: if the media does stop this distortion of the Dobson story and start giving the public the information they really need to make good decisions in this election -- I suspect they will all be eaten by a big cat.

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