It is always a bit of a shocker when a friend, or one who presents himself as a friend, suddenly appears in the media making bitter and unexpected statements criticizing you. But that best describes recent public comments former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has made about me in television appearances, press interviews, and most specifically, in a statement he posted on the Web site of the organization he leads, FreedomWorks, and e-mailed to many people across the country.
Armey's targeting of me in his criticism of evangelical Christians came straight out of the blue. During his tenure in office, Mr. Armey and I had worked together several times on issues important to the family. Yet despite this history, Armey never called me personally to express his anger, nor did he send me an advance copy of the attack he published on his Web site.
We have not communicated once in any form since he retired from politics four years ago. It leaves me to wonder why he chose this particular election season to fire his salvos, and what is the underlying message he hoped to convey?
We all know that politics is a contentious business, and Armey must have made many lifelong enemies during his nine terms in office. Not only did he do battle with numerous liberal Democrats and lobbyists during that time; I am aware of some notable Republican congressmen with whom he also had bad relationships.
So why am I, a conservative and a fellow Christian, one of only two people Armey selected for personal mass-media vilification? That question is even more curious since he “made up” or imagined many of the incidents that he has attributed to me.
For example, Armey claims that I said he was “not a good Christian.” That is ridiculous because it contradicts basic New Testament orthodoxy. A person either is or is not a Christian, based entirely on divine forgiveness. It is not a matter of degree depending on his or her own “goodness.” I would never have made such a charge against Armey because, on the face of it, the assessment is foolish. It never happened.
Armey has also implied that I am among those who favor “big government,” which is equally absurd. Anyone who knows anything about me or the organization I head, Focus on the Family, is aware that we support limited federal government consistent with the intent of the Founding Fathers.
It is not difficult to validate my views. I¹ve been heard on radio seven days a week for almost three decades, and every word spoken during that time is still on the record. Furthermore, I have published 35 books that have sold more than 18 million copies. Most of those books are still in print and can be accessed.
The onus is on Armey to find a single spoken or written word that will document his claim that I am among the tax-and-spend liberals, but none exists. He can search, but he will find none. To the contrary, I served in 1986 as co-chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Committee for Tax Reform, calling for serious reductions in federal taxation.
How could I have been in favor of big government while trying desperately to help Congress lower the federal budget and allow families to keep more of their own money? I fought the Marriage Penalty Tax for years, which many of Armey¹s colleagues supported with passion.
Nevertheless, he has implied that I am among those who favor a government monopoly of schools, government-funded “art,” taxpayer supported “family planning” organizations, taxpayer support for churches and nanny-state activism. Where has this man been? I have fought all of those policies tooth and nail, notably while in his presence.
Another of Mr. Armey’s curious “recollections” was spelled out as follows:
In his Web site statement, he wrote, “One of my proudest moments in Congress was beating the Democrat's attempts to meddle in the affairs of families that had chosen to opt out of secular government education by home schooling their children. I took on the entire political establishment, but we only won because thousands of Christian home schoolers demanded that Congress keep its nose out of their decision to raise and educate their children as they saw fit.”
Armey is right about that, but he has clearly forgotten that I collaborated with Mike Farris, co-founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, in leading the fight for home schooling. Farris and I aired several passionate radio programs during that time which resulted in more than 1 million phone calls being made to Capitol Hill. The switchboard actually malfunctioned in the surge.
Our target was Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and his liberal colleagues who were trying to shut down home-based education throughout the nation. The hail of criticism that ensued sent everyone but Miller running for the tall grass, and the ultimate vote was 421 to 1. Miller is the only one who voted for his bill, and he has not tried to reintroduce it since. But now, Dick Armey remembers only that he and unnamed Christians beat back the Democrats, and apparently places me on the other side of the struggle.
Armey has also claimed that I opposed a trade bill that would have granted Most Favored Nation status for China, stating that I was motivated, “not by a moral compass but by the desire to increase my ‘membership and revenue.'”
What an insult! I have never taken a dime of salary from Focus on the Family in 29 years, and the organization itself has never compromised its values to enhance contributions. As for my opposition to this bill, China is a totalitarian country which was (and still is) restricting religious freedom and imprisoning many of its people who are simply practicing their faith. I had seen actual videos of prisoners being executed and then gruesomely dismembered.
The Chinese government also imposed an unconscionable “one child per family” policy on its people, forcing millions of women to abort wanted children. That resulted in countless female babies being murdered or left to die in "orphanages" or on the streets. And who can forget Tiananmen Square?
I knew there was huge economic benefit to U.S. companies for permitting unrestricted trade with this enormous country, but some things are more important than money or politics. So tell me, Mr. Majority Leader, which one of us was following a moral compass in this instance?
That brings us back around to this question: What is behind these and other phony accusations, and why has Dick Armey decided to make them public now during an election season? There must be some reason why he is just now getting around to venting his wrath after all these years? What is stuck in his craw?
There are several likely answers.
First, Armey gave us a clue when he wrote, “Dobson later ran an orchestrated campaign against me in my race to retain the Majority Leader post.”
There it is. I supported my close friend and hunting buddy, Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., because I thought he was more committed to conservative ideals, especially the sanctity of human life. Armey is apparently still ticked about that. At least in this instance, Armey has his facts right. I didn’t “orchestrate” anything, however, since it is impossible for an outsider to engineer any internal congressional matter. I did let my preference be known. I make no apology for that, but Mr. Armey still appears to resent me for it.
Another indication of the source of his irritation is found in one more flawed recollection. He wrote, “As Majority Leader, I remember vividly a meeting with the House leadership where Dobson scolded us for having failed to ‘deliver’ for Christian conservatives, that we owed our majority to him, and that he had the power to take our jobs back. That offended me and I told him so.”
Well, this account is partially true. I gave a speech in 1998 that received wide publicity, resulting in my picture appearing on the cover of the U.S. News & World Report. I had criticized Republicans in 1994 for having campaigned on a pro-family, pro-moral and pro-life platform, and then failing to deliver on the promise. That speech resulted in a meeting with about 30 Republican congressmen, during which Gary Bauer and I aired our concerns.
Among our criticisms was the Republican’s continued allocation of $900 million dollars for family planning activities.
I did not say during our meeting that Republicans owed me anything personally or that I could take their jobs back. I did say that I thought pro-family voters would abandon them if they forgot the promises they had made. I gave as an example the failure of "values voters," as they are now called, to vote for Bob Dole, who said in 1996 that he disagreed with the pro-life platform and didn't intend to even read it.
We were right about that, but my comments must have infuriated Dick Armey. This is why he now calls me “a bully” and considers my colleagues to be “thugs.”
Finally, the former Majority Leader is livid because of the observation by some conservative Christians that he is working quietly with the ACLU. That charge, which I have never repeated until now, reflects media reports of his collaboration.
For example, on Nov. 23, 2002, the New York Times reported that “the American Civil Liberties Union has agreed in principle to hire Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican and one of the most conservative members of Congress, as a consultant to work on privacy surveillance and national security issues. Today’s announcement follows a similar arrangement the ACLU has with Rep. Dick Armey, the departing House majority leader who is also a conservative Republican.”
That connection was also reported in [Boston's] Patriot Ledger, on Feb. 25, 2003 as follows: “These troubled times also have made strange bedfellows at the ACLU. The consultants for the organization are Dick Armey of Texas ...”
Still another reference is found in a Jan. 1, 2004 edition of Social Justice, which reported, “Also taking part [in the opposition to the Patriot Act] are some unlikely conservative/libertarian allies, such as New York Times columnist William Safire, [and] Dick Armey, former Republican House majority leader ... who worked under contract with the ACLU after retiring from the House.”
I have no idea whether or not these reports are accurate, so Armey’s beef is not with me. He should blame the press. Believe it or not, I don’t spend my time trying to figure out what Dick Armey is doing and really don’t care very much one way or the other. I am writing now to correct his continued misstatements that emanate from his confused memories of our interactions over the years and to consider what he is getting at.
In summary, let me emphasize that most of the public policies which Armey supports and articulates in his letter could have been taken from the transcripts of my radio programs and writings.
He concluded his most recent diatribe by asserting, “we need to limit the sphere of government and create civil space where private institutions, individual responsibility and religious faith can flourish. By reducing the size of the welfare state, we increase the importance of the works of Christian charities and our church communities. By reducing the tax burden on families we make it easier for Christian households to tithe or for young mothers to stay at home to raise their children. The same is true for retirement security based on ownership. Reducing the ever-growing reach of the federal government means local communities, and more important, parents are free to establish the standards and values for education of their children.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. The only question is, how could anyone who knows me continue to claim that I represent the opposite side of those traditional conservative values?
Either Dick Armey has forgotten most of what I said, or he has become a very bitter man. Or maybe there is another possibility. He could be trying to reposition himself as an erstwhile Republican leader by discrediting the Religious Right, hoping to step into the vacuum after the upcoming election.
Come to think of it, that may explain everything.
Dr. James Dobson is founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization that produces his internationally syndicated radio programs, heard by more than 220 million people daily on 3,000 radio facilities in North America and an additional 4,130 radio facilities around the world, and publishes 14 magazines.
He is the author of numerous best-selling books, including "The New Dare to Discipline," "When God Doesn’t Make Sense," "Bringing Up Boys," " Marriage Under Fire," " The New Strong-Willed Child," "A Father, A Hero," "Five Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy" and " Seven Solutions for Burned Out Parents."
Dr. James Dobson is founder and president of Family Talk, a radio ministry heard on 1,300 stations nationwide. He was one of the founders of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. He is the author of more than 80 books, including the current trilogy of dystopian novels, Fatherless, Childless and Godless, exploring the future effects of current cultural trends and government policies.