The problem with Father Coughlin isn’t just his message of hate; it’s the affection his huge audience has for him.
Cleveland, August 16 “Jesus!” breathed the newsreel man, gathering in his lines in the shadow of the stadium. “What an ending!” He was talking of Father Charles F. Coughlin, who brought the first annual convention of the National Union for Social Justice to a close by calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Rexford G. Tugwell “Communists,” directing his audience to “go to your homes as to a trench,” and suddenly collapsing under a hot sun and being spirited away, while 30,000 people, stunned, stood in a silent prayer.
Indeed, Father Coughlin’s heavenly fish fry is over, and if it proved anything to those who underwent it, it was that the man who hopes some day to be “a simple parish priest again” is very much with the world. As a disembodied voice, he was listened to; as a living man who walks the earth, who breathes, gestures, smiles, and bends the graciousness of his shining countenance upon them who believe, he is worshiped. They love him.
It was all Coughlin Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, save for a few hours of the first day when that “Great Betrayer” and “L—” came to town quite innocently to look over the WPA projects in Cleveland. But that was not important. Father Coughlin waited until the President left at four o’clock and then delivered a surprise address in Public Hall on money and the persecution of the Jews which made the headlines of the evening newspapers.
The show lagged a bit at the beginning, but by Saturday night Father Coughlin had to be escorted through the corridors of the Hotel Hollenden in the center of a flying wedge of burly Irishmen lest the faithful dismantle him in their frenzy, and the National Union for Social justice convention had become an orgy of affection. Maryland moved a vote of thanks to Father Coughlin’s mother for bearing him. Indiana advanced to the rostrum and pointed out that his father was born in Indiana. Kentucky called him a second Lincoln. All states agreed that he was the Greatest American of All Time, and some compared him even to Christ. Thomas C. O’Brien, the Union Party candidate for Vice-President, apparently a little cagey about superlatives, merely called him “the greatest living teacher of economics,” while F. L. Van Ness, a Kalamazoo, Michigan, artist, estimated that from 2:30 p.m. Friday until I p m. Saturday he sold 11,500 reproductions of Father Goughlin’s portrait, done in misty, saint-like pastels, at two bits each. And finally the entire assembly in convention met passed a resolution—one of a number of resolutions marked by the repeated and significant use of the term “Our Leader”—indorsing everything he ever publicly said or did as well as everything he was ever publicly to say or do.
Miss Helen Elizabeth Martin of the Bronx, New York, well-nigh swooned Saturday with the honor that was hers of nominating father Coughlin for the presidency of the N. U. S. J. Fortyish, a red ribbon holding her frizzled auburn bangs to her forehead, Miss Helen blew two-fingered kisses at the audience and standing pale and sanctified at the rostrum, declaimed dramatically, “I dedicate this moment to the two women who prepared me for it. They are in the Great Beyond …. I stand alone.” It developed that she was talking about her mother and grandmother.