Talk Radio: I am my country's mom

Culture | Talk radio host Dr. Laura is the Rush Limbaugh of morality

Issue: "Face Off," Aug. 9, 1997

The observation that Dr. Laura Schlessinger provides the predominantly masculine talk-radio environment with a feminine presence may seem trite. But there is nothing trite these days about a feminine presence that owes nothing to feminism and everything-or almost everything-to the Ten Commandments.

Her Dr. Laura Program, which is second only to Rush Limbaugh's show in the ratings race, has few frills. Aside from the snippets of rock-and-roll that serve as bumper music (Patti LaBelle's "New Attitude" is the show's de facto theme), the main attraction is Dr. Laura and those members of her audience fortunate enough to get through with their "dilemmas."

That she never refers to herself as a conservative or a Republican may annoy those who want their common sense with a brand name. Central to her understanding is not a political stance but Judaism, a faith she chose as an adult.That faith is both strong but incomplete: Dr. Laura is great on pointing to behaviors that need to change, but sometimes weak in examining underlying motives.

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Nevertheless, Laura Schlessinger's willingness to take strong stands leaves her towering above today's psychobabblers. Dr. Laura's naysayers are a dwindling minority. Articulate, euphonious, and attractive (she is that rarest of radio personalities, one who looks as good as she sounds), the 50-year-old mother of one and martial-arts expert has apparently never encountered a door she could not kick in. Sometimes she speaks equally confidently of biblical absolutes and her own.

The key to her success as a no-nonsense moralizer in a nonsensical, immoral society lies in her favorite slogan, "I am my kid's mom," the overmodesty of which renders it only partially correct. In light of her popularity, "I am my country's mom" might be more accurate (or, because she has the number-one radio show in Canada, "I am most of my continent's mom").

If she is tougher than such past "national moms" as Harriet Nelson or Florence Henderson, these are different times. Her consistent opposition to abortion, "shacking up," divorce, and other manifestations of self-centeredness has made her refreshingly impatient with illogic and equivocation. Callers expecting a therapist whose main mannerism is a sympathetically nodding head get an awakening that by today's touchy-feely standards may seem rude.

One subject upon which she and many of her trenchmates in the culture war differ is homosexuality, of which she is tolerant. But her tolerance has limits. On one recent show, after receiving two different calls from homosexual men who wanted to know if she thought they were justified in saying no to sexual advances from their HIV-infected partners, she came as close as she ever has to on-air outrage. What became clear is that what she tolerates and what she advocates are entirely different.

What she advocates is often right. That an audience for such an advocate still exists may be the most encouraging aspect of the entire Dr. Laura phenomenon.


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