Fred Thompson just keeps looking better and better

Regardless of whether there's anything to the idea that a man should be judged by his enemies, I can't think of anything more likely to get me to vote for Fred Thompson than this news:

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson has dealt a potentially devastating blow to Fred Thompson's presidential aspirations, saying the former senator is not a Christian.

"Everyone knows he's conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for," Dobson - considered the most politically powerful evangelical figure in the U.S. - said in a phone call to Dan Gilgoff, senior editor at U.S. News & World Report.

"[But] I don't think he's a Christian. At least that's my impression."

Until today, I hadn't known that Jesus Christ put James Dobson in charge of the word bearing his name. It's a remarkable assertion.

One I don't think Thompson even needs to dignify with a reply, although his spokesman apparently has:

Thompson's spokesman Mark Corallo took issue with the statement.

"Thompson is indeed a Christian," he said. "He was baptized into the Church of Christ."

In logic, James Dobson has as much right to opine on Fred Thompson's Christianity as Fred Thompson does to opine on James Dobson's. I don't think Fred Thompson would do that, because he probably knows these things aren't up to him to decide.

Not so Dobson. What I find particularly remarkable about his outburst is that he measures Christianity according to the loudness of the mouth:

Focus on Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger sought to clarify Dobson's statement, telling Gilgoff that while Dobson didn't believe Thompson belonged to a non-Christian faith, he "has never known Thompson to be a committed Christian - someone who openly talks about his faith.
In other words, Christians who simply don't yell and brag about their religious beliefs are not Christians?

Since when?

I sincerely hope Dobson's definition of Christianity does not become widely accepted.

For Christianity's sake.

I'm no Christian theologian, but Dobson's denunciation of Christians as "non-Christian" reminds me of the Sayeed Qutb approach of denouncing fellow Muslims as "un-Islamic."

No, I don't mean to say that Dobson is the moral equivalent of Qutb. But bad logic is bad logic, and by questioning Dobson's Christianity, Dobson only invites others to question his.

Who knows? When all this religious test fervor is over, Thompson might end up looking like a better Christian than Dobson!

(Not that it's up to me to decide such things....)

MORE: In Fred Thompson's biography at the Washington Post, there's the following simple entry:

Religion: Protestant
How did the Post find that out? Did they make it up?

What if it turns out that Fred Thompson indeed "openly talked" about his religion?

Wouldn't that mean Dobson bore false witness?

MORE: Daily Kos analyst "liberalpragmatist" warns fellow leftists not to laugh at Fred Thompson, who "might well be the strongest candidate the Republicans could field":

He comes off to most as more likable than Hillary Clinton. Unlike McCain, Giuliani or Romney, he'll certainly out-Southern John Edwards. And he'll score well on the gravitas score against either Edwards or Obama (less so for the latter).

A Thompson-led ticket could very easily solidify the warring GOP base and wrap up the entire South save a competitive-but-Republican-leaning Florida. Pair him with Tim Pawlenty, the Republican governor of Minnesota as his running mate, and he would be in a very strong general election position.

My guess is that Obama would be the strongest opponent for Thompson. But Thompson could conceivably beat Obama at the debates and could also appear more authoritative than Obama, something that will earn him points among many suburban swing voters and many seniors. Though Obama would likely win big among younger voters, the "age gap" could tip the scales towards Thompson.

I'm not writing off our chances against Thompson; I still think that, given the political climate, we'd be slight favorites. But we'd certainly have to fight hard for it. And though I like our chances against any of the current Republican top three, I'm nowhere near as certain about those chances against Thompson.

Let's hope he doesn't run, or that if he does, all the top money and operatives have already been snatched up and he gains no more traction than, say, Mike Huckabee.

Solidify the warring GOP base? Is Dobson against that too?

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds characterizes the Dobson pronouncement as "ANOTHER REASON TO LIKE FRED THOMPSON."

What Dobson said is looking more and more like an endorsement.

(But I should be more careful with my sarcasm, as one commenter has already noticed that it's an illness I need to heal. Sorry, but it's the illness that drives this blog!)

UPDATE: Via Clayton Cramer, my attention was directed to this apparent qualification of James Dobson's remarks:

"In his conversation with Mr. Gilgoff, Dr. Dobson was attempting to highlight that to the best of his knowledge, Sen. Thompson hadn't clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him. Dr. Dobson told Mr. Gilgoff he had never met Sen. Thompson and wasn't certain that his understanding of the
former senator's religious convictions was accurate. Unfortunately, these qualifiers weren't reported by Mr. Gilgoff. We were, however, pleased to learn from his spokesperson that Sen. Thompson professes to be a believer.
Well, did Dobson contact Gilgoff in the first place or not? Why all this convoluted lawyerlike language in a press release? Can't Dobson speak for himself? It seems to me he either said "I don't think he's a Christian" or he didn't.

The call to "secular media" Gilgoff in the first place followed by the lawyerlike "qualification" seems fishy to me. I think he wanted to either damage Thompson, or force him to grovel.

posted by Eric on 03.28.07 at 05:22 PM


Knowing you, I'm sure you're familiar with Kipling's "The Disciple". Posting the whole poem would probably be excessive, but if you will excuse a single verse:

"It is His Disciple
Who shall tell us how
Much the Master would have scrapped
Had He lived till now;
What He would have modified
Of what He said before;
It is His Disciple
Shall do this and more."

Dobson, anyone?

Empire1   ·  March 28, 2007 8:01 PM

Thanks, I do recall that.

It brings to mind this thought (attributed to Jesus):

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

quoted here:

Eric Scheie   ·  March 28, 2007 9:14 PM

What a friend
We have in Mooooloch.

Ya gotta be tolerant, right?

Bleepless   ·  March 28, 2007 10:05 PM

Eric, you should'a stuck with "I'm no Christian theologian" and remained silent rather than confirm the impression others have about you!

Dr. James Dobson is in charge of whatever his own "impression" of things may be. From that, you are foolish to assume this means "Jesus Christ put James Dobson in charge of the word bearing his name" and the same goes for all the other snide cracks you tried to make, Eric. Learn from your own trite syllogism, "bad logic is bad logic." Also know that unwarranted exaggeration is, well, unwarranted.

Since you asked, "What if it turns out that Fred Thompson indeed 'openly talked' about his religion? Wouldn't that mean Dobson bore false witness?" I'll educate you. The answer is no, unless Dr. Dobson knew that Thompson does openly talk about his faith.

Heal thyself, Eric, before ye be also thought a heel. Be more careful with the comparisons you choose because, yes, reasonable people can infer -- despite your protest to the contrary -- that you did "mean to say that Dobson is the moral equivalent of Qutb."

Sigh. Just because all the atheists you know are jerks doesn't mean we all are.

michael i   ·  March 28, 2007 10:47 PM

What you'al don't get is that Dobson doesn't consider Thompson a true Christian because he's already found his man: Newt - tha' man Dobson didn't have the courage to be.
Newt, the man who served his wife divorce papers while she was dying from cancer, the man who helped in the impeachment of Clinton while practicing adultery - the man who now grovels before Dobson, I mean God, repenting his sins...
Hell Fire and Damnation people! Read or re-read one of the great satirical novels of all time: "Elmer Gantry"
Dobson's found his Elmer in Newt. Praise The Lord!!!

Frank   ·  March 28, 2007 11:07 PM

Michael, when I said that "Jesus Christ put James Dobson in charge of the word bearing his name" I think it was quite obvious I was being sarcastic to make a point -- that there's no way to know such things. Dobson is the one making an outrageous statement without any logical basis, and I think his assertion deserves ridicule.

I'm glad you agree that if "Dr. Dobson knew that Thompson does openly talk about his faith" then he bore false witness. I find it hard to believe he never read Thompson's biography.

I also think you're arguing with something I did not say:

All the atheists I know are jerks?

When did I ever say anything remotely like that? I don't think it; why would I say it? (I don't think or say it about Christians, Jews or Muslims, either.)

I "should'a stuck with "I'm no Christian theologian" and remained silent rather than confirm the impression others have about me"?

What impression is that? That I am a Christian theologian?

Or just an atheist hater?

I'm tantalized by the assertion that I should "heal" myself. This implies illness; is there an actual diagnosis you'd like to offer, or is it just some sort of vague judgment?

Eric Scheie   ·  March 29, 2007 12:21 AM

It's hard to tell whether michael i is attacking you for being too Christian or not Christian enough. You usually don't find atheists defending James Dobson.

I think his beef is that you come to Thompson's defense when Thompson is accused of being not Christian enough, as if that's something bad.

Like if Dobson said Thompson was half-Asian, and you mocked Dobson for saying so (because it obviously isn't true), and then some Asians came to this blog and attacked you for being anti-Asian because THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING HALF-ASIAN WHY DON'T YOU CALL HIM HALF-WHITE YOU BIGOT!!!!!

But that misses the point. And (as an atheist myself) I am deeply suspicious of any atheist who would defend James Dobson. Some people are more comfortable with caricatures of Christians (like Dobson) than actual Christian people (like Fred Thompson).

P.S.: it is, of course, possible to "bear false witness" when one is merely ignorant of the truth, if one misrepresents oneself as being informed. If Dobson is running his mouth without doing his homework, then he's a big-mouthed fool (we already know that) and he's bearing false witness.

Daryl Herbert   ·  March 29, 2007 1:37 AM

Daryl, you touched on a pet peeve of mine. Those who want the word "Christian" applied only to fundamentalist Christians tend to be:

1. left wing activists and their media allies;

2. insecure atheists advancing an agenda by attempting to stereotype and lump those who aren't atheists; and

3. fundamentalist Christians themselves.

Atheists and fundamentalist Christians enjoy agreeing that Christian = fundamentalist Christian. Likewise the same two groups would love to tell people that if you are not a fundamentalist, you're really little more than an atheist, and you belong in that camp. I think it's a form of collusion. Here are some old posts on the general subject:

It reminds me of an unfortunate trend in politics in which ideological activists (those who yell the loudest) scare away non-activists to preserve the playing field for themselves.

I'm also wondering whether Dobson isn't engaged in his own form of identity politics. (Might he be behaving a bit like those who say Barack Obama is "not black enough"?)

Eric Scheie   ·  March 29, 2007 8:13 AM

I think Dobson said he didn't think he was a Christian. Keyword here is (think). Not actually a positive statement. What Mr. Dobson was saying is that Fred Thompson, from what we know has not been outspoken about it. That's makes him a little suspect. Most Christians are pretty vocal about their Christianity. That is what irritates most atheists about us. We are vocal.

Just because someone says they are a Christian; or they say they belong to a particular Christian church, does not make them a Christian. John 3:3 tells you what makes a Christian.

The truth is only God can see the heart of a man, and only He knows for sure!

There are some evidences of a Christian who experiences a changed life. You can see it in their personality and actions, if you look!

I am a Born Again Christian (probably the kind you do not like), but I like Fred Thompson and I believe he will be a great candidate and none of this will matter when I go to the polls.

No one can make a good argument about this issue unless he or she is a Christian. And better yet if they have been both a non-Christian and a Christian. To be an expert you need to have been both.

Flip Parker   ·  April 16, 2007 9:39 PM

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