Chapter 6 of Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal, 2009, Nation Books, NY

James Dobson was born in 1936 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His father, James "Big Jim" Dobson Sr., was an itinerant preacher who spent much of his time on the road riling up tent revival crowds with fire-and-brimstone sermons. Dobson's mother, Myrtle, accompanied James Sr. wherever he went, often leaving young Dobson in the care of his great aunt. During her occasional stints at home, Myrtle routinely lashed out at her only son with the wrath of God, battering him for such offenses as spouting the phrase "Dad-ummit!"

Dobson later reflected on his mother's child-rearing techniques:

I learned very early that if I was going to launch a flippant attack on her, I had better be standing at least ten or twelve feet away. This distance was necessary to avoid being hit with whatever she could get in her hands. On one occasion she cracked me with a shoe; at other times she used a handy belt. The day I learned the importance of staying out of reach shines like a neon light m my mind. I made the costly mistake of "sassing" her when I was about four feet away, She wheeled around to grab something with which to hit me, and her hand landed on a girdle. She drew back and swung that 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 mid-section. She gave me an entire thrashing with one massive blow! From that day forward, I cautiously retreated a few steps before popping off.
As fearful as he was of his volatile mother, Dobson formed a close bond with his father and emulated his Nazarene Christian faith. Derived from the Calvinist-inspired teachings of John Wesley, the theology to which Nazarene Christians adhere is a doctrine of "Entire Sanctification." After undergoing a life-changing crisis, they walk the sawdust trail to the altar to become "born again" thus freeing themselves forever from the shackles of sin and embarking on a straight path to heaven. The strictures of their faith forbid their listening to music, watching movies, or participating in any way in popular culture. Women are not permitted to wear makeup, or even wedding bands, which Nazarenes consider "adornment."

Tent revivals serve as a release valve for the Nazarenes' pent-up passions. Open crying, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), and intensely personal confessions were strongly encouraged at James Sr.'s revivals. Dobson said that at one of his father's jubilees, he broke town in tears and became "born again." He was three years old at the time. As Dobson entered adulthood, he adapted the Nazarenes' emotionalism to his charismatic public speaking style, and although he largely ignored its restrictions against enjoying popular culture, the religion's concept of crisis and redemption through enforced austerity formed the basis of his hard-right ideology.

Instead of following his father into the ministry as he was expected to do, the ambitious Dobson enrolled at the graduate school of psychology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. From there, he entered the USC School of Medicine, where he spent much of the late 1960s and early 1970s as a professor of pediatrics. Although his work began to gain some professional notice, Dobson was preoccupied with the tumult outside his window. Sandwiched between Los Angeles's riot-charred inner city and a college campus roiled by anti-war protests, Dobson seethed and blamed the upheaval on the counterculture and radical politics.

Dobson flatly rejected the notion that the residual ravages of Jim Crow, the ever-escalating violence of the Vietnam War, or the resentful style of President Richard Nixon had provoked any of these problems. Instead, he homed in on a scapegoat: Dr. Benjamin Spock, a pediatrician whose perennially best-selling book Baby and Child Care advised parents to treat their children respectfully as individuals. To Dobson, the nurturing style of parenting that Spock advocated was dangerous and "off the wall." "Is it merely coincidental that the generation raised during the [postwar] era has grown up to challenge every form of authority that confronts It?" Dobson asked. "I think not . . . We have sacrificed this generation on the altar of overindulgence, permissiveness, and mother-love."

Before Spock, parents were often encouraged to control their children with threats of violent retribution and physical discipline. This mode of child-rearing was particularly prevalent among white Protestants. Prescott Sheldon Bush Jr., the brother of President George H. W. Bush and a patriarch of one of Americas most prominent Republican families, neatly encapsulated the parenting style of his social milieu: "My father was a gentleman and he expected us to be gentlemen," Bush recalled. "If we acted disrespectfully, if we did not observe the niceties of etiquette, he took us over his knee and whopped us with his belt. He had a strong arm and boy did we feel it."

For many new parents of the burgeoning postwar middle class, Spock's methods seemed a more humane alternative to the stern methods of their own mothers and fathers. What's more, they worked. Spock's recommendation that parents pick their children up and comfort them when they cried might seem like conventional wisdom today, but when Baby and Child Care was first published in 1946, it was nothing short of revolutionary. Indeed, Spock's prescription for kindness incited critics from the start. And when Spock lent his voice to the anti-Vietnam War movement he became a hate figure for the conservative movement. Among the doctor's most vociferous attackers was Vice President Spiro Agnew, an early and forgotten icon of the New Right who sneered at Spock as "the father of permissiveness."

Dobson envisioned himself as Spock's foil. He pecked away at his typewriter, hoping to produce the definitive child-rearing manual for conservative Americans revolted by the "permissive" passion play of the 1960s. Dobson was convinced that if his teachings reached a wide enough audience, they would forge a new generation of loyal counter-revolutionaries that would return America to the golden days of the 1950s — where boys once again wore pants, girls wore skirts, and, as he wrote, "Farmer John could take his sassy son out to the back forty acres and get his mind straight."

* * *

Dobson's manual, Dare to Discipline, read like a manifesto for domestic violence when it finally appeared in 1970. He urged parents to beat their young children, preferably with a "neutral, object" such as a belt or a rod, lest they turn into drug-addled longhairs. He also advised administering a healthy spanking every now and again." A little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child," Dobson wrote. "However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely. After the emotional ventilation, the child will often want to crumple to the breast of his parent, and he should be welcomed with open, warm, loving arms."

For parents struggling with children who refused to cooperate in public, Dobson recommended a slightly less vigorous technique than spanking. "There is a muscle, lying snuggly against the base of the neck [and] when firmly squeezed, it sends little messengers to the brain saying, 'This hurts; avoid recurrence at all costs.'" Dobson instructed his readers to firmly pinch the necks not only of their own sons and daughters, but of the inadequately disciplined children of complete strangers as well. "It can be utilized in countless situations where face-to-face confrontations occur between child and adult," Dobson said of his technique. To reinforce his advice, Dobson offered an anecdote that read as though it were lifted from the script of Dirty Harry.

I had come out of a drug store, and there at its entrance was a stooped, elderly man, approximately seventy-five or eighty years of age. Four boys, probably ninth graders, had cornered him and were running circles around him. As I came through the door, one of the boys had just knocked the man's hat down over his eyes and they were laughing about how silly he looked, leaning on his cane. I stepped in front of the poor fellow and suggested that they find someone else to torment. One of the little tormentors ran straight up to my face, and stared defiantly in my eye. He was about half my size, but he obviously felt safe because he was a child. He said, "You just hit me! I'll sue you for everything you're worth." I have rather large hands, and it was obviously the time to use them; I grasped his shoulder muscles on both sides, squeezing firmly. He dropped to the ground, holding his neck. One of his friends said, "I'll bet you're a school teacher, aren't you?" All four of them ran.
When Dobson updated his child-rearing advice in his 1992 manual The Strong- Willed Child, he extended his advocacy of corporal punishment to unruly household pets. Dobson described a confrontation between himself and his dog, Siggie (named for Sigmund Freud), over the dog's reluctance to sleep in his designated area:
The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me "reason" with Mr. Freud.

What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!

To Dobson, children were to be treated no differently than dogs. Both were preternaturally prone to rebellion, so both should be "crushed" with violent force. Rebellious adolescents, though impervious to spankings and neck pinches, deserved heavy-handed punishment according to Dobson's rules. The tumult on high school and college campuses "paralleled the decline in authority in the home," he insisted. Because student radicals were beyond the reach of parental authority, Dobson outlined a ten-point plan that school administrators and law enforcement officers could use to induce their submission instead.

Dobson proposed sex-segregated dormitories, fining of student protesters, and the immediate termination of faculty members found guilty of "encouraging revolution." He went on to endorse FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's counter-subversion campaign against the campus left. "Juvenile justice must be designed . . . to sting the child who has challenged authority," Dobson proclaimed.

The timing of Dobson's manifesto was fortuitous for his career. On May 8,1970, just as Dare to Discipline went to press, a thousand students gathered in front of New York's City Hall to protest the massacre, four days before, of students at Kent State University in Ohio by National Guard soldiers. In a show of solidarity with the dead students, liberal Republican New York City Mayor John Lindsay ordered that flags be flown at half-mast.

Across the street from the protest, a battle line of two hundred burly ironworkers clanged metal pipes against the girders of an unfinished building and chanted, "Lindsay is a queer!" Then, NYPD officers stood aside and watched as the workers savagely attacked the students, chasing them onto the campus of nearby Pace University. There, the hard-hats continued their assault, brutalizing dozens of innocent bystanders with metal bludgeons. "I didn't see Americans in action," said one ironworker disgusted by the violence of his coworkers. "I saw the black shirts and brown shirts of Hitler's Germany."

Organizers of the assault, which became known as the "hard-hat riot"' were later revealed to have been instigated to violence by President Richard Nixon's special counsel, Charles Colson.

A White House tape of May 5, 1971, captured the riot's initial planning phase, revealing Colson's role. "Chuck is something else," says Nixon. H. R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, says, "He's gotten a lot done that he hasn't been caught at." He goes on: "And then they're going to stir up some of this Vietcong flag business, as Colson's going to do it through hard hats and legionnaires. What Colson's going to do on that, and what I suggested he do — and I think that they can get away with this — do it with the Teamsters. Just ask them to dig up their eight thugs." "They've got guys who'll go in and knock their heads off," Nixon gleefully replies. "Sure," says Haldeman. "Murderers. Guys that really, you know, that's what they really do . . . regular strikebustertypes . . . and just send them in and beat the shit out of some of these people. And hope they really hurt 'em, you know what I mean? Go in with some real — smash some noses."

Two weeks after the White House organized the attack, Colson arranged a ceremony at the White House to honor its field general, Peter Brennan, president of the Building and Construction Trades and later appointed secretary of labor.

By the summer of 1973, Colson was preparing for his trial for obstruction of justice. With the prosecution preparing its case against him and the press corps homing in on his role in the Watergate break-in, Colson knelt on the floor with his friend Raytheon CEO Tom Phillips. While Colson fought back tears in an embarrassed state of silence, Phillips prayed for his soul. Driving through Washington afterward, Colson suddenly began to cry "tears of release." "I repeated over and over the words, Take me . . ." Colson wrote in his best-selling memoir, Born Again. "Something inside me was urging me to surrender." Soon after, Colson sought out Dobson and Francis Schaeffer as prayer partners.

When Colson finally came to Jesus, he became America's best-known born-again Christian, lending exposure to a cultural phenomenon erupting below the radar of the mainstream press and secular America. In the Washington Post, columnist Nicholas Von Hoffman mocked his conversion as a cynical ploy, panning it as "a socially approved way of having a nervous breakdown." While Colson appeared to remove himself from politics, he quietly planned a strategy to regain his former influence.

After serving seven months in prison, Colson returned to convert the godless criminals he encountered there. In 1976, he founded Prison Fellowship, now a multimillion-dollar organization that operates with public funding in several states and 110 countries. The hundreds of thousands of inmates who have enrolled in Colson's InnerChange Freedom Initiative — motivated by coercive enticements such as extended visits with family members and access to musical instruments and better food — promised by official program material that they will be transformed "through an instantaneous miracle."

Colson read R. J. Rushdoony with avid interest upon his release from prison, and he was among the first evangelical leaders to latch on to Schaeffer's anti-abortion crusade. His 1995 science fiction novel Gideon's Torch revealed his radical passions. The book follows a heroic band of Christian guerrillas who must stop the National Institutes of Health from harvesting brain tissue from aborted fetuses to cure AIDS, a plan funded by Hollywood liberals. To do so, they launch a righteous killing spree of abortion doctors, eventually firebombing the National Institutes of Health. Not surprisingly, Gideon's Torch became a recruiting tool for those wishing to realize its fictional narrative. It has been excerpted at length on the website of the Army of God, a radical anti-abortion group responsible for the killing and bombing of abortion providers.

* * *

When Dobson first entered public life, his understanding of politics was amateur at best. Colson became his counsel, providing him with high-level Republican contacts and help devising a strategy to transform his growing flock into an influential political bloc. Colson could never have fulfilled the strategy on his own. Indeed, no figure in the burgeoning evangelical movement shared Dobson's psychological understanding of his audience on an intimate level. Only Dobson recognized events such as the hard-hat riot as integral parts of a gathering backlash against liberalism. His advocacy of corporal punishment was carefully intended to channel the violent backlash in the streets into a coherent grassroots movement with himself as its guru.

Dobson's teachings resonated on a profound level with the back-lashers. By 1976, Dare to Discipline had been reprinted eighteen times and sold over a million copies. His success propelled him into the rapidly expanding evangelical broadcast industry. Dobson's new radio show and ministry, Focus on the Family, became immensely popular as well. Now, the followers eager to implement his harsh methods had grown into a belt-wielding army of millions. Corporal punishment was back with a vengeance.

Philip Greven, a professor of history at Rutgers University and a leading expert on Protestant religious thought, is one of the few researchers of American conservatism who has recognized the impact of corporal punishment on the sensibility of movement members. In his incisive book Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse, Greven analyzed Dare to Discipline in detail, concluding that Dobson's violent child-rearing methods served an underlying purpose, producing droves of activists embarked on an authoritarian mission.

"The persistent 'conservatism' of American politics and society is rooted in large part in the physical violence done to children," Greven wrote. "The roots of this persistent tilt towards hierarchy, enforced order, and absolute authority — so evident in Germany earlier in this century and in the radical right in America today — are always traceable to aggression against children's wills and bodies, to the pain and the suffering they experience long before they, as adults, confront the complex issues of the polity, the society, and the world."

But the infliction of pain on young children, social deviants, and other weaker beings is only one half of a binary solution Dobson has prescribed to his followers for curing America's social ills. As Dobson has consistently made clear to his flock, they must first purify their own souls of sin before striking out, literally, to purify the land.

Dobson's self-purification process, adapted from his father's Nazarene faith, compels his followers to confess their darkest transgressions before pleading for forgiveness. Finally, to attain what Dobson and others in the evangelical culture call "holiness," a permanent state of spiritual perfection, followers must submit their individual wills to the order of a higher power — either God, or men of God such as Dobson. Every sinner who submits must be convinced that, as Dobson has insisted, "Pain is a marvelous purifier."

Dobson's emphasis on pain, simultaneously inflicted on weaker beings and the self, reflects the sadomasochism at the core of his philosophy. As Greven noted, books such as Dare to Discipline that urge parents to beat their children are hardly distinguishable from S&M manuals such, as Larry Townsend's "The Leatherman's Handbook,'' which advise men on erotic techniques of "discipline" and "punishment." The principal distinction between the two is that the methods Townsend advocates are applied to adults who have chosen to participate, whereas Dobson's techniques are wielded against the wills of small children.

"Wherever children suffer from painful physical punishments and humiliating submission to more powerful authorities, sadomasochism will be present," Greven wrote. "Sadomasochism is thus one of the most enduring consequences of coercive discipline in childhood."

Erich Fromm, in his book Escape from Freedom, insisted that sadomasochism was more than a sexual kink. It was, he claimed, a defining characteristic of the authoritarian personality, finding its most dangerous expression in the political sphere. "The essence of the authoritarian character," Fromm wrote, "has been described as the simultaneous presence of sadistic and masochistic drives. Sadism was understood as aiming at unrestricted power over another person more or less mixed with destructiveness; masochism as aiming at dissolving oneself in an overwhelmingly strong power and participating in its strength and glory."

Dare to Discipline and several of Dobson's subsequent tracts are little more than how-to guides for the cultivation of sadomasochists. As Dobson's own personal history shows, many of those raised on a steady diet of corporal punishment demonstrate a tendency later in life to reenact the painful experiences familiar to their childhoods, through either radical-right political activism or cruel interpersonal behavior, or both. The appeal of illicit, even macabre sexual behavior to some social conservatives — a trend that has produced no end of colorful scandals — further reflects their sadomasochistic tendencies.

The sadomasochism that is latent in so many figures of the new radical right is often activated by a traumatic personal crisis. As Fromm explained, "Both the sadistic and the masochistic trends are caused by the inability of the isolated individual to stand alone and his need for a symbiotic relationship that overcomes this aloneness."

Many of those who once crumpled to the breast of a parent after a thorough beating have found themselves prostrate at Dobson's feet later in life. Only through Dobson have they been able to fulfill the urge to simultaneously give and receive pain, an urge that they developed during infancy. Thus it is hardly a coincidence that some of the worst, most sadistic serial killers America has known have been granted redemption by the leader of Focus on the Family, who has time and again inserted himself as their father confessor and counselor. No matter how malignant their sins might have been, once they confessed them to Dobson and submitted to his rigid authority, they were welcomed with open arms into "The Family" and were assured of eternal salvation.

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