Dr. Laura's Mirror

Lately, I've been listening to Dr. Laura's radio show. I have three reasons for tuning in. 1. Her show is interesting. 2. The quality of Howard Stern's show has been going down since he made his movie. 3. My car doesn't have an FM radio.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger has a pretty good show. The premise is that listeners call in with moral dilemmas for Dr. Laura to solve. She intersperses these conversations with letters, newspaper articles, and other material on the subject of morality. It is amazing that a person could become famous and highly controversial for publicly asserting beliefs that no one would have questioned forty years ago. Many people despise Dr. Laura. A tabloid reported that Elizabeth Taylor listens to her religiously, fuming at what she says. The article said that Liz has tried to get through as a caller several times but has never made it.

Are Dr. Laura's beliefs extreme? Much of the advice she gives is obvious to any sensible person. Sometimes, though, you have to wonder about her value system. Here are a couple of examples that I strained at. In one case, a mother was irritated at her husband's parents for driving her two children around in a car without child safety seats. Dr. Laura's advice was for the mother to buy the seats as a gift for her in-laws. What was interesting, though, was how Dr. Laura agreed with the mother that driving without the seats was the equivalent of sending the children into a raging battle. Dr. Laura often tells us that "mothers don't bring life into the world" so that it can be exposed to one thing or another, in this case, the unacceptable dangers of driving. If I were the grandparents and heard the hysterical tone of the discussion, I think I'd let my son pay for his own babysitter and children's transportation. It also occurred to me that no one had safety seats in those bygone days of decent morality.

Another youthful caller was alarmed by her 15-year-old friend's promiscuity. She had tried everything she could think of to reform her friend and nothing helped. Dr. Laura's questioning brought out the fact that the girls parents were "strange." This strangeness was evidenced by their serving wine to teenagers. Dr. Laura concluded that it was time to call in a government agency and possibly have the girl removed from her strange parents' custody. Personally, I would call such a course of action extreme. After all, late 20th century America is virtually the only alcohol using area where teenagers are not allowed to drink. Dr. Laura's religion demands it. The culture of Dr. Laura's Italian ancestors have extremely low alcoholism rates because they integrate wine into their children's lives at a young age. There is a common thread in both these cases. Dr. Laura was not upholding "traditional" values; she was enforcing a new set of morals that have been imposed on America by government fiat.

Dr. Laura's show is entertaining but it's not great. The major problem with the show business part of the show lies with Dr. Laura herself. She is aggressively perky at times and seems to believe that her listeners are deeply interested in her child, her food preferences, and the details of her life. She has a self satisfied delivery that can annoy you even when you agree with her. Dr. Laura is one of those people who think that computer illiteracy is cute and she never hesitates to display her ignorance and contempt for the internet. These traits are not really bothersome on radio because radio performers need strong personalities to keep your attention.

There are some real problems with her show, though. In her effort to reinforce her moral message, she accepts no live criticism from liberal spokespeople nor does she speak with any callers who fundamentally disagree with her version of morality. Instead she reads press articles or studies from the liberal psychiatric community and then refutes them. She may be afraid to face live criticism though I can't imagine why. I believe she can state her position as well as anyone. This lack of live criticism tends to make the show more boring than it could be.

I heard a person say that talk TV programs were the new freak shows. We're not supposed to care about people's physical deformities now so that we entertain ourselves with their psychological quirks. Dr. Laura seems not to realize that a large part of her appeal is in giving the people an "emotional freak show." It is often apparent that she has information that the listeners lack (and would love to hear); and she often rushes her callers so that she can get to her moral punch line. People do listen to her show in order to reinforce the moral choices that they have made, but only the hypocritical would pretend they didn't enjoy the "freak show" aspects of the program.

In my essay “Spooks, Spocks, and Hilary Clinton,” I attacked Max Stirner’s idea that selflessness is common. I have always asserted that all actions are selfish because they originate in the self. Those who seem to act selflessly are actually satisfying subtle desires. Like Hilary, Dr. Laura acts as though she had transcended her old selfish personality. Her signature line is, “...and me? I’m my kid’s mom.” When I hear this, I can’t help thinking “Why should I listen to you? Put your kid on.” In Stirner’s terms, motherhood has become Dr. Laura’s “spook.” Her other obsessions are morality and the orthodox Jewish religion, which she embraced rather late in life. In my previous essay, I remarked that Spock and Hilary were not acting selflessly because they had turned their spooks into their own mental property. When Spock, for instance, acted for Starfleet, he was acting for something that he had taken into himself. Hilary’s tender conscience led her to fame, power, and riches; but the egoist Stirner died in poverty.

Dr. Laura doesn’t hide her spooks from us. She parades them daily to millions. Her life is Spartan and she works very hard at motherhood, morality, and religion. Is she truly unselfish? Would Stirner condemn her as crazy? I can’t see into people’s minds; but there is a rather consistent pattern in Dr. Laura’s life. I have to bring up Dr. Laura’s nude photos that were placed on many internet sites. Many people have accused her of hypocrisy because she posed for a number of these pictures in her twenties; but the charge is ridiculous. She is not involved with anything like the pictures now and she regrets having posed for them then. As she justly points out, hypocrisy is criticizing something that one is doing, not something one has done. If she had a purer past, the same critics would attack her for not experiencing what she was condemning.

However, these pictures (in one way or another) show her enormous drive to be the center of attention. She earned not one, but two impressive degrees; but apparently she didn’t find chemistry or psychology as fulfilling as radio. It’s telling that she used her education to go into teaching and counseling (professions where she was the focus of interest). Being a mother is not enough for her; she claims to derive her whole identity from being her “kid’s mom.” No one takes any notice of regular moms; you have to be extreme to be looked at. Even her religion is suspicious. After she became serious about the Jewish religion, she decided to become orthodox. It seems that God himself has to notice and admire.

Dr. Laura's drug is the spotlight; and she is completely selfish when it comes to her drug. She shares some traits that are common to unaffectedly selfish people. For instance, she doesn’t really listen to her callers. She listens “for” something. If you go into a supermarkect and look “for” Kix cereal you may find it; but you have not really looked at the inside of the supermarket. Dr. Laura listens to her callers in exactly this way.

I heard an excruciating 2 or 3 minute conversation in which Dr. Laura could not comprehend what a caller was saying. The lady said "my husband brought a certain woman home after an office party" when she meant that the husband "took" the woman home. Long after all her listeners understood what the woman meant, Dr. Laura was still puzzling over the mistake. This is only one example. Anyone who listens to Dr. Laura for an hour knows that she limits what her callers can say and often doesn't listen carefully to what they do say. She would argue that her show is about morality. But don't forget that she is the arbiter of morality so that her program is about one thing: her.

A libertarian critique of Dr. Laura would be pointless. She obviously subscribes to the basic tenet of totalitarianism: If it's bad, outlaw it; if it's good, make it mandatory. One young caller asked if she should expect her estranged father to pay for her college education. Dr. Laura started to ask her why she would have such an expectation and the girl replied that in her state it was mandatory for her father to pay for college. Dr. Laura immediately changed her tone. She said that it must be right because of the law. I ask why we need Dr. Laura at all when we can just look in the law books for our moral guidance.

She never questions the war on drugs, gun control, the attack on teenage smoking, or the subtle erosion of free expression. I'd like to ask this moral giant whether it's just to use guns to imprison people for smoking the leaves of a common plant? I'd like to ask her what the "moral" limits on the governmental use of force should be; but I would expect no answer. Fundamentally, Dr. Laura is as shallow as most narcissists.

She does not question the common wisdom of our culture, which she regards as so toxic. Dr. Laura has the typical modern horror of overweight and even equates it with a moral failing. She showed the obligatory hysteria at school violence after television gave us two weeks of Columbine HS coverage. Perhaps she didn't know that school violence has been declining for five years Perhaps she doesn't think very deeply. She accepts 18 (prescribed by the state) as the magical age of adulthood. On one hand, she ignores the Jewish age of 13 for manhood; and on the other hand, she rejects the idea of any parental control of a child over 18. Finally and unbelievably, Dr. Laura appeared at Bill and Hillary's September 1998 prayer breakfast, thus lending her credibility to the cynical degradation of religious belief and practice.

Dr. Laura talks only about sexual morality, honesty, religious observance, decent behavior, and primarily THE CHILDREN. When she limits the world to these topics, she has all the answers and she is the star. Her listeners are exhorted to devalue or ignore the rest of life as if other people (privately or in government) did not affect these matters. The chess champion is the master of a two dimensional world of 64 little squares; likewise, Dr. Laura is the undisputed empress of her domain.

Aeschylus's viewers knew the myths when they watched Oedipus Rex. Oedipus was born the prince of Thebes but his parents exposed the infant after it was prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He was saved by a shepherd and later he returned to Thebes without knowing his origin. On the road back, he did kill his father, the king. Thebes was being terrorized by the Sphinx who killed every traveler who could not answer its riddle. "What goes on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?" Oepidus gave the correct answer: A man who crawls as an infant, walks upright as an adult and needs a cane in old age.

The people of Thebes were so glad to be rid of the Sphinx that they made him king and gave his mother the queen to him as his wife. After Oedipus had several children, the Gods grew angry at the impiety and cursed the city. As king, Oedipus was again called upon to save the city. Oedipus Rex is the story of his inability to see himself as the cause of the city's misery. One great irony of the story is that he saw himself (a human being) as the answer to the first riddle but could not see himself (a particular human being) as the answer to the second riddle. Tiresias the prophet kept holding the mirror up to Oedipus's face but he could not see himself in it. When he finally saw the true Oedipus, he went mad and blinded himself.

Dr. Laura's conversion and flight from selfishness has left her like Oedipus. She fled all the selfish narcissism of her past life and thinks that she has changed. Dr. Laura always says that people can change. Can they really change or do they only change the way they accomplish their constant goals? I don't know. I do know that Dr. Laura's mirror no longer shows her what she is: a performer, a star, a seeker of the spotlight. A true mirror would show nothing but self, self, and self. If she could admit her fundamental nature, she could deal with it on an even higher level. She could give her opponents and her fans a share of the attention and so produce a better radio show. She would also be a more effective spokesperson for her ideals.

Rush Limbaugh is a performer who used his political beliefs to make himself a star. Anyone who has listened to him knows what he is: a performer. Dr. Laura thinks she has a higher calling. She deceives herself. She should understand that being a radio personality is enough. People value others for different characteristics. The traits that make a good linebacker are not necessarily the traits we look for in a babysitter.