James Dobson and a Tale of Two Women

Grace Wyler has a good scoop over at Business Insider on the behind-the-scenes fighting at the big religious right confab in Texas this past weekend—the one that produced a consensus around Rick Santorum, which few observers think will result in a surge for Santorum.

Wyler:

Influential evangelical leader James Dobson set off the fireworks at this weekend’s Christian Right summit, giving a speech that lavished praise on Karen Santorum and asked whether Americans really wanted Callista Gingrich — “a woman who was a man’s mistress for eight years” — as their First Lady, according to sources who attended the meeting.

Sources told Business Insider that Dobson’s speech was a “startling moment” that left many in the audience — particularly those who support Gingrich — floored. One source described Dobson’s tone as “angry,” and said it seemed like Dobson was blaming Callista Gingrich for the couples’ affair, which began while the former House Speaker was still married to his second wife (this is Callista Gingrich’s first marriage).

“It was clear that, to him, the villiain in this story is Callista Gingrich,” the source said. “And he was announcing it to 170 ministers with huge mailing lists and television ministries.”

Good lord, Dobson was in prime woman-blaming mode there, right? As if his audience should be okay with a president who had, as House speaker, pursued the impeachment of Bill Clinton while carrying on an extramarital affair himself? The vision of Dobson angrily ripping into Callista the slut while the jaws of Gingrich supporters in the room fell to the floor brings to mind 2008, when I can’t tell you how many religious right activists told me they didn’t give a hoot what Dobson thought. Not only did they conclude that they could make up their own mind who to vote for, thank you very much, he lost credibility when he dithered about endorsing Mike Huckabee. And here, he’s blaming Callista—”who was a man’s mistress for eight years”—and pitting her against Karen Santorum, who, as Wyler points out, lived—in sin!—with an abortion doctor before she married Rick. (The story about Karen Santorum was out in the open for years before Newsweek reported it on Sunday; as Carole Joffe noted at RH Reality Check, the story known at least since 2005, when it was revealed in the Philadelphia City Paper.)

Dobson’s little temper tantrum lays bare what’s at the heart of his decision-making process here: forget about salvation, forgiveness, redemption, pick the candidate whose wife most exemplifies those Biblically-ordained roles for men and women. That he could shock and anger even hardcore religious rightists who see gender roles through the very same lens points to just how divided this group is over who to endorse, despite the effort to show unity around Santorum.

Here’s your perfect Christian American family, as promoted through cable television, and the Santorum campaign:

And no, I don’t think they know who Woody Guthrie is.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email