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Carlson Margaret Carlson was named in 1994 the first woman columnist in TIME's history. She writes primarily about policy and politics and is a regular panelist on CNN's Capital Gang.

Washington Diary

Facing A Dobson's Choice

By Margaret Carlson

TIME magazine

(TIME, May 25) -- Returning from a book tour in which he apologized for everything but the end of Seinfeld, Newt was looking calm, thin and happy. Then James Dobson, the country's most powerful Christian activist, with 28 million radio listeners, came calling, threatening to bolt the party unless Gingrich stones the adulterer in the Oval Office and delivers candidates to Dobson's liking, not ones who use him and don't take his calls in the morning.

Gingrich immediately got back in touch with his inner bomb-throwing child, told his troops to shout from the dome that Clinton, the country's chief law enforcer, was guilty not of the wimpy word "scandals," but of "crimes." Gingrich must also deliver on the Dobsonesque agenda that he once put on the back burner and embrace anti-gay, antiabortion, pro-gun candidates. Dobson, with more adherents than Ralph Reed or Pat Robertson, wants respect, and he wants it yesterday.

Last week the danger of placating Dobson became clear when a darling of the right, the aptly named Jon Christensen, imploded in the gubernatorial primary in conservative Nebraska.

Christensen could have been bred in Dobson's lab. A Gingrich pet when he came to Congress as part of the blow-the-House-down freshman class of 1994, he was awarded a coveted seat on the Ways and Means committee. He announced his candidacy on the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and got so choked up denouncing the decision that he had to stop speaking. He wants creationism to be taught at school after the kids say a prayer. He's for guns of every variety and promised never, ever to hire a gay person. But his personal life was at odds with his family-values rhetoric. So he got his first wife to sign an affidavit saying it was her adultery that broke up the marriage, and he got his wife-to-be, former Miss America Tara Dawn Holland, to swear that she is a virgin "saving herself for marriage." He attacked his opponent, Lincoln's Mayor Mike Johanns, over nudity on a public TV station in Lincoln that the mayor doesn't control.

Christensen touted Dobson's endorsement in his ads, but the G.O.P. star tanked at 28% (and wept like a baby), upset by the moderate Johanns, who pointedly criticized Christensen for his homophobia. Could people be seeing that the Christian right is not very Christian? The golden rule doesn't include gay bashing and divisiveness; Nebraskans traditionally had to overlook each others' differences in order to raise each others' barns. And, perhaps, the hundreds of thousands of Cornhuskers who attend the church of their choice found Christensen's passion for the proposed "Religious Freedom Amendment" to the Constitution an exercise in fixing something that isn't broken.

Dobson is now boosting former Representative Bob Dornan, the loudest, loosest cannon in all the right wing, who is running again for the California seat he has yet to concede he lost in 1996. If in conservative Nebraska the new family value seems to be tolerance, let's see if Newt goes to California to help.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: May 25, 1998

Gore's Costly High-Wire Act
Schools Be Wired To The Internet?
      Yes--It's Essential to the Way Kids Learn, By Vice President Al Gore
      No--Learn First, Surf Later, By David Gelernter
Gentle Knife
Facing A Dobson's Choice
Young, G.O.P. and Black
The Notebook: Janet Reno's Employment Agency


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