She's mean, she's popular. And she's more political than her shocked listeners realize. Pat Buchanan has floated her name for running mate. Gay activists have made her a target in the battle for marriage rights. And Christian lobbyists and proselytizers are carrying her flag high.
She promotes herself as a simple, conservative "advice giver" whose "moral health show" sends out common sense to as many as 20 million listeners each week. But take a closer look at "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger, the 53-year-old bulldog of a Jewish woman who is spreading her anti-abortion, anti-feminist and anti-gay message. Schlessinger, it turns out, is no milquetoast Dear Abby, and she's no shock-jock Howard Stern. She's part of the national political movement to impose conservative religious values on all Americans.
In recent months, gay activists have been working to scuttle Schlessinger's planned TV show, which was to be launched by Paramount this September. They have objected to her claims that homosexuality is "deviant" and the result of a "biological error" and have lobbied her to restrain her "hate speech." But this isn't just a gay issue: There are reasons why women, Jews and all minorities should be alarmed.Homosexuality is just the most visible issue on Dr. Laura's agenda. There are also the aggressive campaigns by Schlessinger against abortion, working mothers, and all the gains of the feminist movement. "It seemed to me," notes one Jewish leader, "that [what] she was preaching would put women back 20 or 30 years."
This is echoed by Susan Weidman Schneider, LILITH magazine's editor-in-chief: "It should alarm all women and men who have campaigned for gender equity that Laura Schlessinger is preaching her retrograde message to large audiences daily and that she identifies herself as a Jewish woman while she's at it. We run the risk of having other Americans imagine that her views are mainstream Jewish views, which they are not."
What is important to note about Laura Schlessinger is the extraordinary ties between her and the Christian right. Many of these groups, calling themselves "family values" organizations, have thrown their public support behind Schlessinger. She has preached in their churches and on major televangelist programs and has received their awards. Lobbying groups like the influential Family Research Council, founded by presidential candidate Gary Bauer, have paid for advertising trying to defend her against the outrage of gay activists. Evangelical Christian publishers of books and magazines have featured her words, and Pat Buchanan has suggested she would make a good running mate on the Reform Party ticket.
"What our opposition has done," comments Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal, "is taken over the radio and TV talk shows, preaching this very hard line. They are marketing themselves as psychologists and religious figures and people to counsel people in their time of need, but I think it is a well-orchestrated [political] strategy."
The burden today is on Jewish groups, women's groups and others to join gay and lesbian activists in voicing their concern about Schlessinger and the constituencies she represents. Schlessinger, whose "Dr." title is not in the mental health professions but in physiology, has gone on the warpath against all those who benefited from the liberations of the past four decades. We should watch carefully what Dr. Laura, with her Jewish star dangling so prominently around her neck, is asking for. We all just might get it.
LILITH, the nonprofit Jewish feminist magazine, has been publishing quarterly since 1976. For information, or to order a sample issue, call toll-free 1-888-2-LILITH, go to www.lilith.com