Father Charles Coughlin was a Roman Catholic priest in Michigan who, despite being a religious leader, was also a political leader of his time. His radio programs during the 1930s reached a mass audience of more than 40 million listeners each week.
Coughlin took advantage of this open channel to the public to support Franklin D. Roosevelt and the early discussions of his proposed New Deal plans. He also offered anti-Semitic opinions and attempted to rationalize some political policies espoused by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
Coughlin's broadcasts were seen by many to be just variations upon a Fascist mentality, yet applied to the culture and society in America.
Coughlin's primary topics in his radio addresses were economic and political messages, and he started out in full support of Roosevelt's New Deal. He was the originator of the phrase, "Roosevelt or ruin," a slogan that was popular during the early days of Roosevelt's first administration.
Coughlin also coined the phrase, "The New Deal is Christ's Deal," claiming that God was directing FDR's administration. Coughlin was so supportive of Roosevelt that in January 1934, he appeared before Congress and testified in support of the policies FDR had implemented.
He said that if Congress failed to back FDR in the New Deal, the country would suffer a revolution that would make the French Revolution pale in comparison.
But over time he gradually shifted his opinions and became one of the harshest, most outspoken critics of the New Deal. In 1934 he created the National Union for Social Justice, an organization that supported workers rights and had grown impatient with Roosevelt's monetary policies, which the group viewed as being pseudo-capitalistic and unconstitutional.
Coughlin's radio programs gradually began to preach about the negative impact of "money changers," and he campaigned for monetary reform. He stated that the Depression was actually a "cash famine" and he proposed that eliminating the Federal Reserve system would solve the problem.
Coughlin's organization, the NUSJ, was committed to guaranteeing work and income, nationalizing the industries that were necessary to society, redistributing wealth by taxing the wealthy, protecting workers' unions, and supporting government control of property.
Coughlin underscored his dislike of capitalism by saying that there could not be any lasting prosperity for Americans if industries were allowed to compete for customers.
He believed that the government should impose a minimum wage and maximum work schedule that all companies had to abide by, but the government should also discourage individualism, license factories, and limit industrial output.
When Coughlin began criticizing Roosevelt's New Deal, FDR tried to tone down his opposition by sending well-known Irish Catholics to meet him. Coughlin's response was to spout that Roosevelt was just a 'Wall Street tool'.
His radio program became increasingly vehement towards Roosevelt, Jews, and capitalists. Joseph P. Kennedy, a staunch supporter of the New Deal, warned that Coughlin was becoming dangerous in his opposition to Roosevelt, and worked with other prominent Irish Catholics and the Pope to eventually silence Coughlin.
Charles Coughlin dedicated his life to fight against modern capitalism, saying that it steals goods from laborers, and he also struck against Communism, saying that it robs civilizations from being happy. Many liberals in today's political world have opined that Fox News host Glenn Beck is the Charles Coughlin of today's society.
In Beck's pointed criticism of President Barack Obama, they hear echoes of Charles Coughlin's radio diatribes toward Roosevelt and his New Deal. But Beck doesn't hold forth on the same anti-Semitic and pro-socialist rants that Coughlin was known for.
However, despite the seven decades that separate the two commentators, they share the same passion for making people think instead of being content to be sheep.