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'The Jesus Machine' Tracks James Dobson's Rise

Journalist Dan Gilgoff is the author of the new book The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America Are Winning the Culture War.

Gilgoff — a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report — gained rare access for a reporter to the Focus on the Family organization. He writes about how Dobson's group became the most powerful group in the Christian Right.


Other segments from the episode on March 5, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 5, 2007: Interview with Dan Gilgoff; Review of The Trucks' album "The Trucks."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Dan Gilgoff, author of "The Jesus Machine" and senior
editor at US News & World Report, talks about James Dobson, the
most powerful leader of the Christian Right

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

James Dobson is perhaps the most powerful leader of the Christian Right. More
powerful than Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson ever were, according to my guest,
Dan Gilgoff. He's the author of a new book about Dobson called "The Jesus
Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family and Evangelical America Are
Winning the Culture War." Gilgoff is a senior editor at US News & World Report
and has been covering how the Christian Right is influencing current politics,
including the Democratic and Republican presidential primary campaigns. We'll
talk about that a little later. Gilgoff says James Dobson's organizational
empire provides the national armature for the modern-day Christian Right, like
the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition had done in earlier decades.
Dobson is a child psychologist who, in the 1970s, started the radio show
"Focus on the Family" that dispenses Biblically-based family advice. It's now
on about 2,000 stations in the US. Dobson also took the lead in founding the
Family Research Council, which Gilgoff describes as the premier lobbying group
for the Christian Right.

Dan Gilgoff, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Would you describe the group James Dobson founded, Focus on the Family, which,
you know, has been his home base?

Mr. DAN GILGOFF: Sure. Focus on the Family was an organization that was
launched by James Dobson as a radio show in 1977. Its first hires--it was a
Southern California show--were what he calls correspondence, women who would
answer the phone calls and the letters coming into his--from his listeners
that were asking about issues involving their family from an unfaithful
husband to kids that were using drugs, and over the last 25 years, the
organization has really grown around that dynamic, that is James Dobson's
listeners, calling or writing letters, or these days mailing--e-mailing.
Focus on the Family gets 10,000 e-mails each month asking what James Dobson
thinks about family topic X, and that really explains most of the work of the
ministry today.

GROSS: So what you've described is basically, you know, advice shows and
advice-oriented operations pertaining to family. You haven't described a
political radio show. Does he have a political base through these
family-oriented advice operations?

Mr. GILGOFF: Well, the fact that the political shows are a rarity that
Dobson does and that the political work Focus on the Family is a small
fraction of its overall work is really what gives Dobson unrivaled, either
currently or historically, power within the Christian Right movement. And so
the paradox that's created is that for the most part, Dobson doesn't talk
politics on air. For the most part, Focus on the Family doesn't engage in at
least kind of outright political advocacy. But to the extent that they do,
they do it more effectively and more powerfully than any previous Christian
Right leader or organization precisely because they have this relationship
with who they call their constituents, their listeners and the people that
they correspond with, that is totally outside the realm of politics. And so
when Dobson or Focus attempts to transfer or parlay that relationship with its
constituents and right now its mailing list is almost three million strong,
it's remarkably effective precisely because it's not a relationship that's
based on politics. It's much deeper than that.

GROSS: So he's used this mailing list to get out political messages?

Mr. GILGOFF: Yeah. He uses his radio show. Everytime--it's pretty
fascinating--everytime for the most part that he does a political radio show,
he always frames it as being a departure from what he'd rather be doing and as
almost an unscheduled interruption into what was previously planned. So, for
instance, a show about talking to your kids about adolescence, about coming of
age and human sexuality, that show will be--James Dobson will come on air and
say that that show has been postponed until the next day because there's an
urgent matter that needs to be discussed. And so it's always framed as kind
of intruding on the issues that he'd rather be talking about, rather be
focusing on the family.

GROSS: Now James Dobson also cofounded a group called the Family Research
Council. Describe that group.

Mr. GILGOFF: Family Research Council was cofounded by James Dobson in 1983.
It was really a small Washington lobbying outfit through the 1980s until Gary
Bauer, who was the chief domestic policy adviser for Ronald Reagan, came to
the organization in the late 1980s, after the Reagan administration was
over--he arrived in 1989. That year, Family Research Council was actually
rolled into Focus on the Family because it was really struggling. By the time
that Gary Bauer left a decade later, he had left to run for president in the
year 2000, it had grown to become--you know, 10--had a $10 million budget. It
had over 100 employees, and really in the wake of the demise of Christian
Coalition in the late 1990s after Ralph Reed's departure in 1996, Family
Research Council became the most powerful Christian Right organization in
Washington and remains that to today, and it's very closely tied to Focus on
the Family.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dan Gilgoff. He's a senior
editor at US News & World Report, and his new book "The Jesus Machine" is
about the Christian Right focusing on James Dobson, who many people consider
to be the most powerful figure in the Christian Right now.

You say that one of the ways that James Dobson's way of operating compares to,
say, Ralph Reed in the days when Ralph Reed ran the Christian Coalition is
that Reed had befriended each candidate so that the Christian movement would
have an ally, regardless of who won and regardless of which Republican
candidate won, I think what you mean there, whereas Dobson, you say, took an
all-or-nothing strategy. Would you describe that all-or-nothing strategy?

Mr. GILGOFF: Ralph Reed was a Republican before he was a born-again
Christian, and James Dobson is the opposite. He was an evangelical Christian
before he became politically active. I talked to Ralph Reed for the book, and
you know, he owns up to that, and he had really been raised through the
Republican Party. He had become a leader in the Republican--Young Republicans
when he was in college. He graduated and was very high up with Grover
Norquist and Jack Abramoff, names we all know well now in that organization.
And so his first allegiance was to the Republican Party.

A lot of his credibility seemed to go up in smoke in the 1996 election because
he was seen to be supporting Bob Dole, who was considered a social moderate by
a lot of Christian Right activities, and they were apoplectic that Ralph Reed,
the most powerful Christian activist really of his time, was--seemed to be,
tacitly at least and really behind the scenes, pretty strongly endorsing and
supporting the candidacy of Bob Dole.

And so what happens is the year after 1997, Ralph Reed leaves the Christian
Coalition, and James Dobson comes to town--comes to Washington in 1998, sits
down in the basement with a group of about two dozen House Republicans, a lot
of whom are very close allies of him and threatens to lead--leave, excuse me,
the Republican Party, and he says that although the Republicans took over four
years earlier in 1994 Republican revolution, the party really, or at least the
Christian Right flank of the party, had very little to show for it. There had
been no real new curbs on abortion rights passed. The National Endowment for
the Arts was still up and running. And so Dobson threatens to leave, and it
really ushers in this new era in relations between the Christian Right and the
Republican Party with Dobson at the helm, of becoming much less compromising
as Ralph Reed was and a much more of kind of all-or-nothing, `You're with us
or against us,' if you will, approach.

GROSS: And I think another example of what you're saying is in 2004 after
President Bush was re-elected, he basically gave an ultimatum to the president
and to congressional Republicans about what they needed to do to continue
getting the evangelical vote. What did he say?

Mr. GILGOFF: He said that he viewed--I talked to him a couple of days after
the 2004 election, and he said that in his mind, the 2004 election was really
something of a reprieve for the Republican Party and that if they didn't
deliver on his issues and on the issues of the Christian Right that two years
later and particularly--and especially four years later, that is, in the
course of the 2006 midterm elections but even more so in the 2008 Republican
presidential primaries in the presidential elections, that evangelical voters
would stay home.

GROSS: And what did he do to follow up on that ultimatum?

Mr. GILGOFF: In 2006, he really actually came to the defense of Republicans
even though he was--he had previously threatened, you know, to kind of leave
the party or to at least encourage evangelicals to stay home, and one of the
questions that is really raised in the book is since the Christian Right has
tied itself so closely to the Republican Party exclusively, have they painted
themselves into a corner? Do they really have an alternative or anywhere else
to go?

GROSS: What was Dobson's role in helping President Bush get re-elected?

Mr. GILGOFF: It was very significant. 2004 really saw the first outright
presidential endorsement of James Dobson's career, and it was for President
Bush. But even more significantly Focus on the Family has developed this
national state-based network of organizations called Family Policy Councils.
Focus on the Family doesn't like to refer to them as affiliates because
they're independent organization with, you know, separate funding structures
and separate boards, but they're very closely tied and are in constant contact
with Focus on the Family. If it wasn't for Dobson's affiliation with the
groups, they would have had tremendous difficulty getting off the ground.
These state-based organizations are really the successors to the Christian
Coalition state chapters in the 1990s, only, I argue in the book, that the
Family Policy Councils attached to Focus are much more effective, and really
Exhibit A in that efficacy is that Ohio in 2004 was, of course, the
battleground state that wound up determining the election, was won by
President Bush by fewer than 125,000 votes that year, and there have been, you
know, a handful of studies done by academics that show it was the uptick in
social conservative and particularly evangelical votes in that state that gave
it to President Bush. If it wasn't for the constitutional amendment in that
state banning same-sex marriage that the Focus on the Family state affiliate
really had to fight tooth and nail to get onto the ballot, it's likely that
John Kerry would have won Ohio. That--and I'm kind of connecting all the dots
here, but that effort was largely funded by the group you mentioned earlier,
Family Research Council here in Washington, DC, which poured $2 million into
the Ohio effort and was able to hire scads of signature collectors to ensure
that the constitutional amendment would be on the ballot in Ohio, and that
really put Bush over the top. And so in that way, I would argue that Focus on
the Family was essential to George W. Bush's re-election.

GROSS: Now Dobson has said some very provocative things about gay marriage.
You quote something that he wrote in a 2003 Focus on the Family newsletter.
I'm going to read that. He wrote, "Most gays and lesbians do not want to
marry each other. That would entangle them in all sorts of legal constraints.
Who needs a lifetime commitment to one person? The legalization of homosexual
marriage is for gay activists merely a stepping stone on the road to
eliminating all societal restrictions on marriage and sexuality." And then he
also said, "This effort is our D-Day or Gettysburg or Stalingrad." How did gay
marriage become such the focal point for James Dobson?

Mr. GILGOFF: The easy answer was the legalization of gay marriage by the
Massachusetts, excuse me, Supreme Court in 2003, enacted in 2004, which
really, for Dobson, presented--you know, put the specter of gay marriage, you
know, obviously into reality and which helped rally evangelicals nationwide in
really an unprecedented way. It had obviously a huge impact in the 2004

But I think the more complex answer is that in the summer of 2003, a group of
conservative, really top Christian Right activists including Dobson, met in
Washington, DC, or actually in Virginia--in Arlington, Virginia--right across
the Potomac River from Washington, DC. One of the issues they were grappling
with at that meeting was that the Christian Right had actually been really
successful. At that point, the presidency was in George W. Bush's hands.
The Congress was controlled by Republicans. There was really--the first curbs
on abortion since Roe v. Wade were being enacted by Congress. But the
negative of that, the downside to that success was that these organizations,
including Focus on the Family, had seen their fund raising flatline, and in
some instances, plummet and there had seemed to be among the evangelical grass
roots a complacency that set in.

And so in the minds of Dobson and those activists who were meeting in 2003,
gay marriage to them was something that not only really presented a threat to
civilization, to Western civilization in their minds and signaled the downfall
of Western civilization but was also a vehicle by which they could revive
their own ailing organizations and some of their fund raising. And so that
was the beginning of this effort on the part of Dobson to convince a lot of
skeptics within the Christian Right who said, `We'll never be able to pass an
amendment to the Constitution. It's easier to elect a president, and that's
pretty difficult.' He steamrolled over those activists, James Dobson did, over
the ensuing couple of years and really turned the efforts to pass an amendment
to the Constitution into the paramount issue of the Christian Right over the
past couple of years.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dan Gilgoff. He's the author
of the new book "The Jesus Machine" that's about the Christian Right with a
focus on James Dobson. And Gilgoff is also a senior editor at US News & World

Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dan Gilgoff. His new book "The
Jesus Machine" is about the rise of the evangelical right with an emphasis on
James Dobson. And Gilgoff is also a senior editor at US News & World Report.

There's a kind of secretive group called the Council of National Policy, and
Dobson is a member of this group and just tell us a little bit about what
their function is.

Mr. GILGOFF: There are a handful of coalitions of conservative activists,
particularly social conservatives like James Dobson, that meet, you know,
regularly a few times a year. The Council for National Policy is one of them.
Its co-founders include Tim LaHaye of the popular "Left Behind" series which
has sold in the tens of millions to a mostly evangelical audience, and James
Dobson is also a member and had been attending since the meetings began in the
early 1980s. Interestingly, James Dobson--we talked a little bit about the
crusade that he led in 1998 in Washington, DC, where he really dressed down
the Republican congressional leadership for not delivering on his issues. He
thought that the Council for National Policy over that same time period in the
1990s, perhaps under the sway of Christian Coalition, which he saw as way too
accommodating to the Republican Party, had lost its spine. And so for his
1998 crusade, he started that with a speech at the Council for National Policy
meeting that year in Phoenix, Arizona, and he later delivered that speech in
the basement of Congress, which is when he took the Republicans to task
and--which really started this entire new era of relations between the
Christian Right and the Republican Party because the congressional leadership
at that time knew it had to respond to Dobson, knew it couldn't afford to lose
Dobson and his followers, and so in the House, a caucus called the Values
Action Team got off the ground, which would be regularly in touch with Dobson
and other Christian Right leaders on a weekly basis and give them a direct
pipeline to congressional Republicans and the Republican leadership, and that
whole campaign, as I said, that year started at the Council for National

GROSS: So the Council for National Policy recently held one of its closed
meetings, and the goal of this meeting was to talk about the Republicans
running for the presidential nomination, and some of those candidates showed
up to address the Council for National Policy. Who are they favoring, now,
like, who is the Christian Right favoring now? The leadership of the
Christian Right, that is.

Mr. GILGOFF: It's a real challenge for the Christian Right right now because
there's--of the three Republican front-runners--Arizona senator John McCain,
former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph
Giuliani--there's really not a Republican who is a unabashed social
conservative or a social conservative that doesn't have an asterisk next to
their name. They all have major challenges in appealing to the Christian
Right constituency, and so there's a debate right now going on within the
Christian Right and within the Council for National Policy. One of the points
of contention is whether to organize among Christian Right leaders behind a
second-tier candidate, someone like Mike Huckabee, the former governor of
Arkansas, who is a true-blue social conservative, in an attempt to catapult
them into the top tier or to take more of a kind of every man for himself kind
of approach, by which each of the leaders of the Christian Right would kind of
gravitate towards the candidate of their choice.

Interestingly, James Dobson sat down for the first time with--one on one, with
one of the front-runners just last month, and that was with Mitt Romney at his
Colorado Springs headquarters. So Dobson seems to be appearing to be
pondering whether or not he could support Mitt Romney, who has a past as a
social liberal and who, of course, his Mormonism raises some major red flags
with the evangelical rank and file, but Dobson is seen to be either perhaps
considering supporting Romney or joining this plan to perhaps catapult one of
the second-tier candidates into the top ranks.

GROSS: Dan Gilgoff's new book is called "The Jesus Machine." He's a senior
editor at US News & World Report. He'll be back in the second half of the

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)



I'm Terry Gross, back with Dan Gilgoff, author of the new book "The Jesus
Machine" about James Dobson, who Gilgoff describes as the leading figure on
the Christian Right. Dobson founded the group Focus on the Family and
cofounded the Family Research Council, which Gilgoff says is the premier
lobbying group for the Christian Right. Gilgoff is a senior editor at US News
& World Report, where he's been covering how evangelicals are influencing the
Republican and Democratic presidential primary campaigns.

Last week Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani addressed the conservative
political Action Committee, and at a straw poll at that meeting, Romney came
in first, Giuliani came in second. Now at the meeting we were just talking
about, the Council for National Policy meeting, Richard Land who heads the
lobbying arm of the Southern Baptist Convention said if Giuliani gets the
nomination, evangelicals won't vote. Can you actually envision an election
where they wouldn't vote?

Mr. GILGOFF: One of the most remarkable turnabouts in the evangelical
movement over the last 30 years is that, you know, up until the founding of
Moral Majority in the late 1970s, evangelicals in this country had really
largely withdrawn from public life, and that dates all the way back to the
Scopes monkey trial of 1925, which, for the evangelical movement, even though
they really won legally, the case was a huge embarrassment, and it's really
stigmatized evangelicals, and so in the last 30 years since the rise of Moral
Majority and with successor groups like James Dobson's Focus on the Family,
the turnabout has been that evangelicals now vote in higher numbers than
almost any other religious tradition, including atheists or secular Americans.
And so it would be difficult to envision evangelicals, you know, staying home
from the polls in 2008.

I think some of the interesting spin coming from Christian Right leaders like
James Dobson on the 2006 midterm elections is that the Republicans didn't
deliver on their promise to enact more legislation against abortion rights, to
push for an amendment to the Constitution that would outlaw gay marriage, and
so James Dobson and his allies say that evangelicals were demoralized and
stayed home in 2006, but that's not what--it's not the story that the exit
polls tell. The story that the exit polls tell is that evangelicals still
represented about a quarter of the electorate in 2006, but that Democrats were
able to peel off a small percent, but a percent that in close elections put
them over the top of evangelical votes and of the votes of weekly churchgoers.
I mean, if you just look at Ohio, which is a state that we've been talking a
lot about in this conversation, Sherrod Brown, who was the successful
Democratic candidate for Senate there in 2006, won around 45 percent of the
churchgoing vote. If Kerry would have done that well in Ohio in 2004, among
the same segment of the Ohio population, he'd be in the White House right now.
And so, for the Democrats, they don't have to move a lot of these votes to
make a really big difference among evangelicals and churchgoing Americans.

GROSS: A lot of people think that the Democratic victory in the House and
Senate in 2006 signaled that the Christian Right had lost power. Do you see
it that way or do you see it differently?

Mr. GILGOFF: I would actually draw the exact opposite lesson. Everyone
after the 2004 election talked about that election as being a values election.
A lot of it for the Christian Right was in response to the legalization of gay
marriage in Massachusetts and the birth of the amendment to the Constitution
to ban gay marriage as a real issue in the evangelical movement. But if you
look at the exit polls for 2006, that was also a values election, only the
values this time were about Republican corruption in Congress, and in talking
to the pollsters for the Democratic National Committee, for instance, when
they saw the numbers shift in the two years leading up to the 2006 midterm
election and when they--they were tracking values voters very closely and
evangelical voters very closely. When they saw those numbers start to break
for them was basically after revelations of the former House Speaker Tom DeLay
and accusations and charges against him and corruption and after the Mark
Foley scandal, which occurred just a month or two before the 2006 midterm
elections, and so in a way, the 2006 midterms and the shift of evangelical and
religious votes were a testament to the power of values and churchgoers in

It's also important to point out that John Kerry's religious outreach in 2004
was abysmal, particularly when compared to the machine that Ralph Reed, the
former executive director of Christian Coalition, was able to build for
President Bush in his re-election in 2004. But John Kerry's religious
outreach director in 2004 spent the next couple of years founding a consulting
firm that would help Democratic candidates reach out to evangelicals and faith
voters, and she was signed up by so many of the successful campaigns in 2006
of the successful Democrats, whether it be the Ohio success of both the
Democratic--Democrat for governor and for the Senate, or for Casey in
Pennsylvania. And so I think the Democrats applied a lot of the lessons of
2004 and the failure of religious outreach that year to 2006, and in the
places where this new consulting firm, called Common Good Strategies, run by
Kerry's former religious outreach director, was active, that was--those were
the states and the races where the Democrats saw the sharpest uptick in
evangelical votes and in the votes of religious Americans. And I think it's
no mistake that right now, each of the three Democratic front-runners for
president have serious religious outreach operations up and running at this
early stage.

GROSS: And what are they emphasizing in those operations?

Mr. GILGOFF: For Hillary Clinton, who is widely seen as being, you know, a
secular politician who's really, you know, a bogeyman of the Christian Right,
they're emphasizing her own active involvement in the Methodist Church and her
own faith. In the 2006 re-election effort for Senator Clinton in New York,
she had begun donning a crucifix on the campaign trail and a lot of political
reporters picked up on it, and a lot of bloggers picked up on it and were
alleging that this was some type of ploy to temper her liberalism in the eyes
of voters by wearing a crucifix. But one of the--Clinton hired her religious
outreach director as--who is an evangelical Christian--as one of her first
staff hires late last year, and I think going forward, you'll see a real
attempt to showcase her own personal faith, to reach out to evangelicals and
to come across as something of a social moderate. She made headlines a couple
of years ago when talking to an audience of family planning providers in
speaking of the need to reduce abortions. I think you're going to hear more
of that language from her going forward.

GROSS: What about Barack Obama? Does he have a religious outreach
coordinator and what is he emphasizing in that part of his campaign?

Mr. GILGOFF: He does. He actually just last month hired from his Senate
office the staffer who was charged with religious outreach to do the same for
his campaign, and with Obama, he has been active in, particularly in the black
churches in Chicago, as a community organizer. Those are the institutions
through which he did a lot of his work in the last couple of decades. I think
he's going to be emphasizing that work, but in talking to his religious
outreach directors he's going to be emphasi--he's going to be including
members of the clergy, religious leaders, in actually forming some of his
policy and in advertising that fact that these are people who are not only
being approached for the votes that they could promise to deliver but in the
actual formulation of policy, which maybe a couple of years ago in the
Democratic Party would have raised a lot of eyebrows, and just a couple of
years later now, it's seen as being kind of essential to casting off the
reputation of the party for being a party of secularists.

GROSS: My guest is Dan Gilgoff, a senior editor at US News & World Report.
His new book "The Jesus Machine" is about James Dobson and the religious

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dan Gilgoff, a senior editor at
US News & World Report. He's written a new book called "The Jesus Machine."
It's about the Christian Right with a focus on James Dobson.

There seems to be a split within the Christian Right right now on several
issues, one of which is global warming. There's a group of people on the
Christian Right, with--including Richard Cizik who's the head of the policy
wing of the National Association of Evangelicals, who think that, you know,
environmentalism and global warming are Christian issues, and Cizik is one of
the leaders of a Christian initiative to stop global warming. Now last week
James Dobson and several other leaders of the religious right sent a letter to
Cizik saying what?

Mr. GILGOFF: The letter was to the board of the National Association of
Evangelicals, and it really encouraged the board to silence Richard Cizik,
this lobbyist in Washington, DC, for the National Association of Evangelicals
who's been really forthright in recent years in leading the charge to combat
global warming and for evangelicals to see it as a biblical responsibility.
To him this is a theological issue to combat global warming. Receiving a lot
of flak from titans of the Christian Right, including James Dobson and other
higher-ups in Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and some of the
state policy councils, and this is just another demonstration, the whole
thesis of my book, on how Dobson sits atop this national Christian Right
empire. If you look at the signers of the letter to the board of the National
Association of Evangelicals last week urging really either the silencing or
the resignation of Richard Cizik, you know, four of the eight top signatories
on that letter are either Focus on the Family executives, including James
Dobson, or affiliated with Family Research Council, Dobson's proxy here in
Washington, DC, or one of the state affiliates of Focus on the Family. This
is another demonstration of Focus on the Family representing kind of the old
guard of the movement and some of its newer voices, including Richard Cizik at
the NAE, really going up against a lot of resistance in trying to break out of
the mold of social issues exclusively being the province of the Christian
Right. That is, the issue of abortion and gay rights in particular.

GROSS: Last year, Richard Cizik was one of the people who drew up a document
on behalf of Christians who want to stop global warming, and this is a
document that said stopping global warming is a Christian duty, but James
Dobson and several other leaders on the Christian Right sent a letter
pressuring Richard Cizik to withdraw his name from this document, and Cizik
did withdraw his name, although he continued to speak on behalf of stopping
global warming as a Christian duty.

Why is James Dobson so opposed to Christians working to stop global warming?
It's one thing to not work on it himself, but it's another to try to prevent
Christians from working to stop global warming. Why does he want to stop that

Mr. GILGOFF: You're absolutely right. I think that it's emblematic of fear
that the movement is actually gathering steam behind Richard Cizik and some
other high-profile evangelicals. I mean, Cizik succeeded in getting figures
like the leader of the Salvation Army, the Purpose-Driven Life pastor, Rick
Warren, who has tens of thousands of members of his Saddleback Church in
Southern California. He got some of the main--the major titans of the
evangelical movements onto this document, and Dobson fears that in doing that,
it threatens to distract and diffuse evangelicals from the causes, what he
calls moral causes, which he doesn't consider global warming to be.
Basically, the hot-button social issues are abortion and same-sex marriage,
and so he fears that if the evangelical movement gets distracted in his mind
by issues like global warming, perhaps even other issues like international
human rights or Darfur to a lesser extent, they will take their attention off
the fight to end abortion, to fight to oppose same-sex marriage, and those
issues in his mind and to the old guard of the Christian Right are paramount.

GROSS: If the Christian Right is split over environmentalism, what are some
of the other issues splitting the Christian Right now, and who are some of the
people on the side of these new issues?

Mr. GILGOFF: Rick Warren, the Purpose-driven Life pastor we just talked
about as being one of--perhaps the biggest name that Richard Cizik succeeded
in getting on the evangelical climate initiative is a figure who's really been
leading on AIDS in Africa, has been basically trying to get his church, which
comprises tens of thousands of members, to adopt communities and villages in
countries like Rwanda to combat illiteracy, AIDS, poverty, and on those
issues, Dobson isn't somebody who's been outright opposing that, but him
declining to lend his voice to that movement is something that prevents it,
perhaps, from getting a lot more traction in the evangelical community.

When members of the evangelical community want to get mass traction within the
evangelical universe, the gatekeeper they really seek out is Dobson, and so in
some ways by refusing to lend his name to the branching out of the evangelical
movement politically, he is kind of holding up some of this branching out, and
perhaps with his exiting the scene in the next few years to the next decade if
it comes that soon, it will expedite what I call the kind of birth of the new
new right, that is, a new right that is very conservative on social issues but
that doesn't limit itself to social issues.

GROSS: Where does Sam Brownback fit? He's a senator who's trying to get the
Republican Party's nomination for president?

Mr. GILGOFF: I think Senator Brownback is really a poster child for the new
new right, so much of his campaign for the presidency to date has been, you
know, fixated on the issues of abortion and preserving one woman-one man
marriage, but at the same time, he was a real leader of prison reform in this
country, on speaking out about stopping genocide in Darfur. And so he is a
guy that kind of straddles these worlds. He's very close to Dr. Dobson and
is on his show pretty regularly, and at the same time is in the Rick Warren
camp of trying to branch the movement out.

GROSS: So, by watching his campaign, it's kind of a window on that--might it
be a window on that split and where it's heading?

Mr. GILGOFF: Oh, it is, absolutely. And he's not the only one. The former
governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, is another one of these members of what I
would call the new New Right, very conservative and uncompromising on the
social issues. Talks about them all the time, but also frames education as a
values issue, health care as a values issue, and so again, someone that's also
close to James Dobson, is on the show regularly but is in that other camp as
well of looking beyond the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.

GROSS: Let me see if I can sum up some of the points that I think you've made
in this interview, and that is that you think that although the Democrats won
in the House and Senate in 2006, the evangelical vote is still very strong,
the evangelical right is still very strong, but both Democrats and Republicans
are changing a little bit, like the Democrats are trying to speak more to the
religious vote, and at the same time, the evangelical right is changing
direction a little bit, at least the new leadership, the younger leaders
within are changing direction a little bit, heading a little bit more in an
international direction and environmental direction, and that's causing some
division within the Christian Right. So you've got change on both sides here.

Mr. GILGOFF: You do, and there might be more change when one stops and exits
the scene. Dobson is in his early 70s right now. He stepped down from the
presidency of Focus on the Family, and there's, you know, questions of how
long he will be--he will continue to be active. At some point, of course,
he's going to die, and once he exits the scene, it's going to be difficult for
the Christian Right to produce a leader that is as influential as he is in
this day and age because the movement is so decentralized. It is really
comprised largely by very entrepreneurial nondenominational evangelical
churches on the local level, and it's very difficult to transcend all of those
denominational lines, and Dobson has been able to do it and it's taken him
decades to do. And so once Dobson does leave the scene, I think that the
evangelical movement and its branching out into issues like global warming or
combatting AIDS in Africa will actually take off even more than they have now,
unless the movement could produce a social conservative who is as committed as
Dobson is to focusing on hot-button issues, but it's just difficult to see how
they're going to be able to replicate his power once he leaves.

GROSS: Dan Gilgoff, I want to thank you a lot for talking with us.

Mr. GILGOFF: Terry, thanks so much for having me.

GROSS: Dan Gilgoff is the author of "The Jesus Machine" and is the senior
editor at US News & World Report.

Coming up, Milo Miles on the new band the Trucks and their place in the
history of female rock bands. This is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Critic Milo Miles reviews The Trucks' debut album

Four women musicians from Bellingham, Washington, who call themselves The
Trucks, have released a debut album of the same name with language and
attitude that's not going to get them much airplay on mainstream radio.
Critic Milo Miles says The Trucks are part of a long line of female rock bands
that know and find their audience.

(Soundbite from The Trucks' "Old Bikes")

THE TRUCKS: (Singing) "Let's go out for a ride, pedal on our old bikes.
(Unintelligible) I don't care to ride with you anywhere. (Unintelligible)
Pedal, pedal, chain and metal, you went riding with the devil. Pedal, pedal,
chain and metal, you went riding with the devil. Pedal, pedal, chain and
metal, you went riding with the devil. Pedal, pedal, chain and metal, you
went riding with the devil. Blood and concrete don't mix. Two black eyes I
can't fix. Is this a concussion or is this confusion?"

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILO MILES: It wasn't until I heard "Old Bikes" on The Trucks' debut
album that it hit me. They play what I call nursery punk. Sometimes such
music literally sounds like nursery rhymes. Other times it's dressed up with
guitars and electronics, but it still remains very stark and simple. That
particular mode and The Trucks' gut-level feminism makes them part of a female
rock legacy that goes back a long ways. Although nursery punk has an
appealing chanted simplicity, it's always more bratty than childlike. It
signals that while these performers have a sense of humor, they're fighters as
well as lovers. This type of stripped-down punk minimalism has been around
since the early days with British bands like The Slits and the Raincoats. But
the group The Trucks most remind me of are the Swiss band Liliput, who often
managed to say what they wanted with a sneer and a smile, as in their song
"Ain't You," with its command to "take a radio in your life."

(Soundbite from "Ain't You")

LILIPUT: (Singing) "Ain't you want...(unintelligible). Don't you want the
way...(unintelligible). Take a radio in your life, take a radio in your life,
take it in or take it out. Take it out or...(unintelligible) Push it in and
push it out. (Unintelligible) Take a radio in your life. Take a radio in
your life. Ain't you want to...(unintelligible). Don't you want the

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: I can also hear savvy party girls like those in the B-52's in The
Trucks. But they're not just old school. Singer-songwriters Kristen
Allen-Zito and Marissa Moore who also play keyboards, guitar and xylophone,
along with bassist Faith Reichel and drummer Lindy McIntyre, would not be who
they are without the '90s riot girl bands like Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. I
must add that there's always been a potty-mouth tendency in these bands and in
the hip-hop era of horny Little Kim and Peaches. It's gone into high gear
with The Trucks. Numbers like "Why the" are explicit explanations about why
the girls can't get no satisfaction. But, hey, they know what sort of boy
they like too as the song "3 AM" shows.

(Soundbite from "3 AM")

The TRUCKS: (Singing) "Driving my Mac 3 AM. I revved my engine when I saw
him. Boy in a dress in distress, that's the kind of boy that makes me

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: The Trucks are more than lost and found lust, however. Even
their songs that are cast as ominous fairy tales, like the murderous "Come
Back" and the domineering man voice gets back to the oldest truism of rock and
roll. Trashing good manners and making a racket can grant Motley oddballs
dignity and control of their lives. The Trucks' first cut, "Introduction,"
offers up sundry true or untrue facts about themselves, some poignant, some
embarrassing, some mundane, but the crucial lines are these:

(Soundbite from "Introduction")

THE TRUCKS: (Singing) "I wake up depressed. I wake up manic. I wake up
depressed. I wake up manic. I wake up depressed. I wake up manic. You
don't know what you're going to get, but you like it, you love it, you like
it, you love it. You like it, you love it, you like it, you love it. You
like it, you love it, you like it, you love it. You like it, you love it, you
like it, you love it. You like it, you love it, you like it, you love it.
You like it, you love it, you like it, you love it..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: Just as fat power chords and showboat guitar solos will be with
us always, I suspect there will always be bands of rebel girls who don't want
to sound like the boys and find their way to nursery punk to the chance and
simple chords that say, `Take us as we are or leave us alone, and if you don't
like it and love it, they'll run over you like a truck.'

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Cambridge. He reviewed the debut album from The

(Soundbite from The Trucks song)

THE TRUCKS: (Singing) "You cannot keep your pretty hands off me. You cannot
keep your pretty hands off me..."

(End of soundbite)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite from The Trucks song)

THE TRUCKS: (Singing) "No, I won't sit nice and be quiet. No, I won't sit
nice and be quiet. No, I won't sit nice and be quiet. No, I won't sit nice
and be quiet. You cannot keep your pretty hands off me. You cannot keep your
pretty hands off me."

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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