On the Religious Right, an Alliance Torn Asunder

By Alan Cooperman and Juliet Eilperin
Friday, November 3, 2006

Both are Christian conservatives, and they were once stalwart allies, but Dick Armey and James Dobson are going after each other tooth and claw.

Armey, the former Texas congressman and House majority leader, argued in the Outlook section of this past Sunday's Washington Post that Republicans face an "electoral rout" because they stopped being the party of limited government, allowed spending to spin "out of control," and concentrated on such issues as flag burning, Terry Schiavo and same-sex marriage.

On the Web site of FreedomWorks, the organization he now heads, Armey pins much of the blame on Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, and other "self-appointed Christian leaders."

Calling them "thugs" and "bullies" in recent interviews, Armey says that "Dobson and his gang" have split the conservative Christian movement into two camps: those who want to "practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government" and "big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of 'righteousness' on others."

Dobson, in a commentary for the Web site of Fox News, responded this week that Armey is "a very bitter man" who is still smarting because "I supported my close friend and hunting buddy," Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.), over Armey for majority leader. Dobson denied that he supports big government and cited news media reports that Armey has been consulting for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Calling the accusations "a shocker" that "came straight out of the blue," Dobson concluded with this hypothesis about Armey: "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."

A Dobson ally, the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in an interview that evangelicals are irate over Armey's suggestion that issues such as same-sex marriage have distracted the Republicans. In 2004, he said, a referendum to ban same-sex marriage got more votes than President Bush did in Ohio.

"If it weren't for the marriage amendment in Ohio, John Kerry would be president. So shut up, Dick," Land said.

Tilting Toward Windmills

There's a new star in this season's campaign commercials: windmills.

While tall, spindly wind turbines might not be popular among Cape Cod residents right now, politicians from Montana to New York are using them to show voters they're committed to a clean energy future. At least 17 political ads feature windmills this year, according to the advocacy group League of Conservation Voters, a phenomenon that the group's president, Gene Karpinski, said shows that his group's message has finally acquired political resonance.

"Nobody's ever said, 'We're coming to Congress to change environmental policy.' That's never happened before," Karpinski said. "This election is about change, and a big part of that change is about energy security."

Of course, doing a stand-up in front of a massive windmill carries risks, as well. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is shown with her hair flying about as she declares, "This windmill farm will make America less dependent on foreign oil." And Democratic Senate hopeful Jon Tester (Mont.) just looks small compared with the wind turbines standing behind him on an open plain. But Karpinski remains undaunted.

"Candidate after candidate after candidate, they're talking about it," he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company