Common Wisdom: The Doctor Is In

The most shocking talk show in America is not hosted by Jerry Springer. The distinction belongs to a woman who, contrary to contemporary orthodoxy of moral relativism, doles out biblically based directives to troubled callers. Her unapologetic certitude, cheerfully delivered and leavened with humor, propelled her program to number one, according to a recent Arbitron report.

A brief exposure to radio’s Dr. Laura reveals her to be an anomaly. She holds several academic degrees and is licensed in California as a marriage, family, and child counselor, but she operates in a psychobabble free zone. She has zero tolerance for euphemisms. Callers cozily referring to a “relationship” will likely provoke, “you’re shacking up?” One hears liberal teeth grinding. Dr. Laura holds to the culturally discarded notion that sex belongs within marriage. In giving her “never to be humble” opinion, the objective is not to appease the caller but to determine the correct action for those involved, especially the children. She takes a dim view of surrogate mothers, her definition of daycare. Any drop in the employment of mothers with young children is probably traceable to Dr. Laura’s microphone. When a new mother, with the option to remain home, flirts with returning to work, Dr. Laura asks incredulously, “You’d let someone else see your baby’s first step? Where are your priorities?”

Faced with these comparisons, significant numbers choose to stay home. Almost daily, callers testify to the satisfaction of this decision, crediting Dr. Laura’s advice. She follows it herself, on the air only when her son is in school.

It’s positively bracing to hear her dismiss as inconsequential buzz words revered by advice colleagues. Callers leaning on “feelings” are at risk. “I’m not interested in your feelings. We feel all kinds of things, mostly self serving. The question is, what is the right thing to do?” Or, to a mother concerned about her child’s discontent, “The most important thing is not for your child to be happy but to be decent.” To an unmarried woman, “If you don’t think uncommitted sex is the attraction, try going without it and see how long he stays.” To a divorced father, “Sir, you made the baby. Your obligation is to parent that child and you can’t do it 500 miles away even if you’ll make more money.” Dr. Laura is eminently quotable.

The daughter of Jewish and Catholic parents, Dr. Laura Schlessinger opted for the Jewish tradition. She speaks of her orthodox conversion with joy but harbors no hostility to other religions. She often asks a caller’s faith, encouraging reference to its tenets as guidelines for problem solving. If a caller is without religious affiliation, she suggests seeking a spiritual mooring.

Not all calls reflect divorce, but a sobering preponderance do. Painful statistics come to life when voices detail the chaotic results of bad choices and broken covenants. Swamped by distressed callers, Dr. Laura listens, explores the situation further and, in a limited amount of time, gives her opinion. Her facility in doing so particularly attracts young adults, who seem awash in moral confusion. Repeated responses include, “I wish I’d had your advice earlier” and “You’ve changed my life.”

Clergy who avoid hard sayings lest parishioners leave might take note. Dr. Laura never shrinks from what she understands to be the ethical high ground. To many callers, her comments are sterner than hoped for, reflected in sighs and chastened, “I guess you’re right.” Nevertheless, her listeners increase.

Critics berate Dr. Laura as self righteous and censorious, never dreaming they are as well. What irks them is that she marches to a different drummer. She opposes what they do not: current lax standards of behavior. She indicts the breakdown of traditional societal norms, referring to the indulgent and now tenured ’60s mentality as a social experiment that failed. She denounces casual sex, “making babies” and abandoning them, and the cult of personal happiness as priority. She deplores the loss of God and religion from guiding and enriching our lives. She pinpoints the essential crisis: the disappearance of moral language in discussing human conduct with its modern mantra, “don’t be judgmental.” Rubbish, says Dr. Laura. The problem is that we teach our children not to judge, instead of how to judge. God indeed judges the soul, but we necessarily must judge behavior and act accordingly. The absence of this, of consequences for actions, combined with permissive homes, schools, and courts, is a recipe for moral anarchy.

If it can be said that John Paul II has a mantra, it is “Be not afraid,” and Dr. Laura isn’t. There is an obvious and remarkable hunger for Dr. Laura’s message. Ratings tell the story.


B. F. Smith is a freelance writer and former contributing editor to Crisis Magazine.

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