Charles Coughlin: Extraordinary Orator
SOME LIVES are symphonies — four movements ending in a dramatic climax. Others are unfinished tone poems. Though they may live their threescore and ten or, in the case of Father Coughlin, fourscore and eight, their careers end right when the music is becoming interesting, as if Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben came to an abrupt end after the first ten minutes.
Charles Coughlin, although he died in 1979, really only lived for one decade — the 1930s. In 1932 he was a political hero, a collector of million of ethnic votes for the FDR election landslide. He was often invited to the White House and even considered for a cabinet post.
In 1936 he turned his hypnotic oratory against FDR, helped promote a third party and became a sort of outcast. The press turned from sweet to sour and all that was left to him was his huge radio audience and the thousands of dollars that poured into his Shrine of the Little Flower each week after the coast-to-coast sermon-speech. In 1940 he was practically finished. He lost his audience; most of the radio stations dropped him; the public’s real enemies declared him a public enemy and were powerful enough to fool millions.
He had committed the unforgivable crime of opposing America’s entry into World War II and had iterated and reiterated what Lindbergh had only dared to say once — i.e., Jews were pushing the U.S. into a worldwide bloodbath. Coughlin’s Social Justice magazine, though banned from the nation’s newsstands and considered by powerful Jews to be the equivalent of Streicher’s Der Stürmer, repeated the message each week and was one of the last mass publications to tackle the Jewish question objectively. But Social Justice, since it was the mouthpiece of a devout Catholic priest, also harped on such subjects as “The Mystical Body of Christ,” in a weird and alien Aquinas prose that repelled instead of attracted freethinkers and members of other churches, which restricted his nevertheless formidable appeal.
Huey Long tried to break the establishment with Southern populism. He was murdered. Coughlin employed the anti-Wall Street, anti-interventionist, anti-Jewish approach. He was silenced by his church and White House dirty tricks, and his magazine was banned from the U.S. mail. Lindbergh tried isolationism and gave up when FDR outfoxed him at Pearl Harbor. Joe McCarthy went after Red and Russian spies and was driven to drink. New leaders were and are being born, leaders who will learn from the mistakes of the past, since Father Coughlin’s passing.
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Source: Instauration magazine, February 1980