Liberal Fascism

Father Coughlin: Man of the Left

Woops! I thought I posted this two days ago, but it turns out I saved it to general drafts instead of publishing it. As part of my response to Neiwert, I promised the other day that I’d post some stuff from the book about Father Coughlin being a man of the left.  Anyway, here’s a bit of it:

This is as good a place as any to tackle the enduring myth that

Long and Coughlin were conservatives. It is a bedrock dogma of all

enlightened liberals that Father Charles Coughlin was an execrable

right-winger (Long is a more complicated case, but whenever his

legacy is portrayed negatively, he is characterized as right-wing;

whenever he is a friend of the people, he’s a left-winger). Again and

again, Coughlin is referred to as “the right-wing Radio Priest” whom

supposedly insightful essayists describe as the ideological grandfather

of Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, and other putative

extremists.  But Coughlin was in no meaningful way a

conservative or even a right-winger. He was a man of the left in

nearly all significant respects. ….[page 137]

…In October 1931, in a fiery speech against laissez-faire economics,

Coughlin declared that America’s problems couldn’t be

solved “by waiting for things to adjust themselves and by eating the

airy platitudes of those hundreds of so-called leaders who have been

busy assuring us that the bottom has been reached and that prosperity

and justice and charity are waiting ‘just around the corner.’” His favorite villains were “international bankers” and similar ilk. Donations and letters poured in.

In November, denouncing Hoover’s belief that economic relief

was a local matter, Coughlin made an impassioned case for government

activism at the national level. He railed against a federal government

that could help the starving of Belgium and even pigs in

Arkansas but wouldn’t feed Americans because of its antagonism to

welfare. As the presidential election loomed, Coughlin threw all his

weight behind Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The left-wing theocrat

swore that the New Deal was “Christ’s Deal” and that the choice

Americans faced was “Roosevelt or Ruin.” Meanwhile, he wrote the

Democratic candidate, Roosevelt, grotesquely sycophantic letters

explaining that he would change his own positions if that’s what the

campaign needed. 

FDR didn’t like Coughlin much, but, true to form, he was glad to

let the priest think he did. When FDR won, thanks in part to a successful

strategy of going after urban Catholic voters, Coughlin concluded

that he had been instrumental in getting him elected. When

FDR invited the Radio Priest to attend the inauguration, Coughlin

assumed that the president-elect saw things the same way. Over time,

he became increasingly convinced that he was an official White

House spokesman, often creating serious headaches for the White

House even as he celebrated this “Protestant President who has more

courage than 90 percent of the Catholic priests in the country.”

“Capitalism is doomed and is not worth trying to save,” Coughlin

pronounced. At other times he advocated “state capitalism”—a

phrase rich in both fascist and Marxist associations….

And from page 140:

Coughlin himself was a darling among Capitol Hill Democrats,

particularly the Progressive bloc—the liberals to the left of FDR who

pushed him for ever more aggressive reforms. In 1933 the administration

was under considerable pressure to include Coughlin in the

U.S. delegation to a major economic conference in London. Ten senators

and seventy-five congressmen sent a petition declaring that

Coughlin had “the confidence of millions of Americans.” The vast

majority of the signatories were Democrats. There was even a

groundswell among Progressives for FDR to appoint Coughlin treasury

secretary.

This was no joke. Indeed, Coughlin was perhaps the foremost

American advocate of what had become an international push

toward economic nationalism. An heir to the free silver movement,

he was a classic left-wing populist. The more “dignified” forces of

liberalism embraced him in much the same way today’s Democratic

Party embraces Michael Moore. Raymond Moley ran an article on

inflation by Coughlin in the journal he edited. Secretary of

Agriculture Henry Wallace collaborated with Coughlin in an effort

to sway the administration’s monetary policy further to the left.

Recall that Wallace (who was Alger Hiss’s boss at Agriculture) went

on to become Roosevelt’s penultimate vice president, the leading

Soviet “useful idiot” in the United States, the editor of the New

Republic, and the Progressive Party’s 1948 presidential nominee. In

1933 the League for Independent Political Action, a far-left group of

intellectuals chaired by John Dewey, invited Coughlin to participate

in its summer institute. When William Aberhart, the “radical premiere”

of Alberta, Canada, visited Coughlin in Detroit in 1935 to

discuss his own left-wing economic program, Aberhart explained he

wanted to get “the most expert advice on the continent.”

In short, when Neiwert puts Rush Limbaugh’s picture alongside Father Coughlin he’s lighting a signal flare, alerting the world to his own ignorance. 

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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