Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has been in the news a lot over the last couple of years, and that hasn’t been a particularly good development for him. Every time Dobson opens his mouth lately, something comes out that makes him look, well, silly. And as fellow Christian conservatives like Pat Robertson have learned, the sillier you look, the more irrelevant you become.

The latest flap involving Dobson came when he spoke out against global warming – for no good reason – and got the backhand from the National Association of Evangelicals in the process. As The Washington Post reported:

Rebuffing Christian radio commentator James C. Dobson, the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals reaffirmed its position that environmental protection, which it calls “creation care,” is an important moral issue.

Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, and two dozen other conservative Christian leaders, including Gary L. Bauer, Tony Perkins and Paul M. Weyrich, sent the board a letter this month denouncing the association’s vice president, the Rev. Richard Cizik, for urging attention to global warming.

The letter argued that evangelicals are divided on whether climate change is a real problem, and it said that “Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time,” such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

If Cizik “cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues, then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE,” the letter concluded.

The Rev. Leith Anderson, the association’s president, said yesterday that the board did not respond to the letter during a two-day meeting that ended Friday in Minneapolis. But, he said, the board reaffirmed a 2004 position paper, “For the Health of the Nations,” that outlined seven areas of civic responsibility for evangelicals, including creation care along with religious freedom, nurturing the family, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, human rights and restraining violence.

Attack Christian leaders who support efforts to fight global warming is completely pointless and utterly stupid, and it is another example of a once-powerful leader who is quickly descending into ridiculousness.

Dobson once held so much political clout that he could pick up the phone to the White House and change the course of legislation on Capitol Hill. But as the United States looks ahead to electing a new President, Dobson is more punchline than power broker. As The Economist wrote earlier this month, Dobson’s political juice is running thin:

The problem is that Mr Dobson is not all that good at politics. He displays all the characteristic weaknesses of evangelical politicos–overreaching hopelessly and then blaming failure on want of political courage. He was the prime force behind both the fight to keep Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube in place and the push for a gay-marriage ban. But a majority of evangelicals disapproved of the first and a large number of his fellow social conservatives warned, rightly, that the second was a waste of effort.

There have been other miscalculations. He wasted political capital supporting Harriet Miers’s doomed nomination to the Supreme Court. He strongly opposed the 2006 Evangelical Climate Initiative. He accused SpongeBob SquarePants of participating in a “pro-homosexual video”. He argued that “The Da Vinci Code” “has all the evidence of something cooked up in the fires of hell” (wouldn’t it have been better written if it had been?). He compared Bill Frist’s call for increased federal funding for stem-cell research to Nazi experiments.

The 70-year-old Mr Dobson (who has already suffered a heart attack and a stroke) is increasingly looking like a relic of an ancien régime rather than a harbinger of a new order. The average age of people on Focus’s mailing list is 52. Mr Dobson and his acolytes are rapidly being displaced by what Mr Gilgoff calls a New New Right–people who are concerned about international justice and climate change as well as abortion and gay marriage, and people who are willing to work with liberal pressure groups over issues such as Sudan and sex slavery.

All this suggests that the battle for the “values voters” will be more complicated than it was in 2004–and certainly will involve a lot more than kissing Mr Dobson’s ring. In the Republican “evangelical primary” rising stars like Rick Warren, another reluctant politician, may count for as much as the old war horses. And Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–who both like to stress their religious credentials–have a chance of picking up disillusioned evangelicals. The Jesus machine is changing fast.

It wasn’t hard to see this coming. Two years ago Dobson famously accused the cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants of promoting a homosexual agenda, and he did it again last fall in regards to the animated penguin movie “Happy Feet.” Dobson was once a man who spoke out forcefully about what he deemed important social issues; now he’s just a guy who will do and say anything to get a little more attention.