Has the Radical Right Tsunami Run Its Course?
During the Great Depression, a radically conservative Catholic priest, Father Charles Coughlin, actually had a Chicago radio show for a pulpit. His message was a blend of old-fashioned populism and race baiting, very much akin to Hitler's anti-semitism. He founded a political party called The Social Justice Party, which basically called for the nationalization of key industries, and financial reform, which was dominated, he said, by international Jewish wealth.
Coughlin had a massive radio audience which grew as the country sank deeper into the Great Depression, in which fully 25% of the labor force was simply out of work. At his height in the late 30's Coughlin had as many as 45 million regular listeners. The fear among ordinary Americans was palpable as they saw farms abandoned and factory workers on the sidewalks of all the major cities in theater newsreels. Americans were looking for an explanation of what had happened to them and Coughlin and others gave them one.
FDR's contention that fear was the nation's biggest enemy rang far truer then than it does now. All through the 30's, Coughlin rode on his white horse tilting at Marxism, International Jewry, The Federal Reserve, leftists, and even Henry Ford, a notorious anti-Semite.
It took America's entrance into World War II to finally silence Coughlin. His bishop finally could no longer countenance his behavior and consigned him to a small Chicago parish, which he ministered to until his retirement in 1966. But interest in what he had to say had waned by 1942, when people got back to work and the prime national issue was defeating the Nazis and the Japanese. By the end of the war, Coughlin was a political backwater.Continued on the next page