America Has Not Yet Awakened to the Threat (1986)

Norman Lear on Business, Politics and Culture

Speech Excerpts, 1972 – 2011

America Has Not Yet Awakened to the Threat (1986)

The times have produced a rich harvest of talented manipulators over the past several years – leaders such as Jerry Falwell, the Reverends Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye and Jimmy Swaggart, Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillps, and Senators Helms, Denton and East, among others.

We have a tendency to scoff at the televangelists I have mentioned – those political, religious-based charlatans who harness the desperate longings of discarded people.  We have dismissed them as “fringe” leaders, more diverting than threatening, like those old-fashioned throwbacks – the Bible-thumping, openly racist, blatantly anti-Semitic, rough-hewn whackos of long ago.

But that is not who they are.  No, sir, these are the 1980s variety – smooth, buttoned-down, middle-American business-oriented demagogues – entrepreneurs of the spirit – who have a genius for responding to the market’s desire for stable values.  Unlike so many of our leaders who are currently out of touch with their constituencies, these ultra-fundamentalist preachers, occupying hundreds of hours of television weekly, have their fingers and their computers on the pulse of the emotional needs of the crowd.  They raise and spend millions of dollars each year.  And that, friends, is power.

But America has not awakened to the threat.  Our heads are in the sand in spite of the fact that fundamentalist preacher Pat Robertson – who appears on television in this town and across the country for ninety or more minutes every day of our lives – is undoubtedly running for the Presidency!  Last month, he trounced Jack Kemp and equally George [H.W.] Bush’s efforts for the Michigan Republican Convention.  It was a victory that made the earlier victory of the Lyndon LaRouche forces in Illinois seem like child’s play.

We are accustomed to thinking of our Constitution as an unshakeable rock that commands nearly automatic public support.  In today’s political climate – with the thunderbolts of demagogues raining down around us – I believe it’s time to re-examine this assumption.

From “A Republic – If We Can Keep It,” at the Beverly Hills Bar Association, Beverly Hills, California, June 10, 1986.