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.
Fast forward 4 generations
In 2007, this country suffered the biggest financial collapse since 1929. The nation is slowly getting its legs back three years later as unemployment numbers look like they're finally headed south, but the parallels between people like Charles Coughlin and the likes of Glenn Back, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party are too obvious to discount, when one looks at the political climate since our own crash. Beck is out denouncing Jews like George Soros, socialists and communists (again!) in the government and, in a new wrinkle in American life, the browning on the national complexion.
Fox News Network has canned Beck, as both his audience and his polemicism are souring the public (and his ratings!). Palin's popularity numbers are in near-single digits; the Tea Party is losing its punch as its newly elected politicians expose the lunacy of its platform in Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois and elsewhere, as well as on Capital Hill. This political "attitude adjustment" is being helped by an economy which is slowly but surely picking up steam.
And it couldn't come too soon.
Article first published as Has the Radical Right Tsunami Run Its Course? on Technorati.