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Jewish World Review June 14, 2001/ 24 Sivan, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Free speech alive and well in Dr. Laura -- DR. LAURA Schlesinger is one tough cookie. (Who knows cookies better than Mrs. Fields, even this Mrs. Fields who doesn't bake?) She's a lightning rod that absorbs the crackle and heat of bolts thrown at her from the left. She has a big mouth on a tiny face and wisecracks like Barbra Streisand. (She may not take this as a compliment.)

Having listened to her only on my car radio, I didn't know what to expect when I found her at our luncheon table in a grand room at Washington's Grand Hyatt, asking the waiter to make sure she would get the special luncheon lox she had ordered because she keeps kosher.

As an observant Jew, she's convinced that in heaven her dietary virtue will be rewarded and God will serve cheeseburgers to all those who wouldn't mix dairy with meat on earth. (I pushed the small pieces of bacon in my green salad to a hiding place under a clump of Roquefort. Dr. Laura has that effect. You feel a little uncomfortable not living up to her standards.)

Not that everybody agrees with her standards. She adheres to orthodox Jewish morality and doesn't condone homosexuality, which made her the target of attacks by homosexual advocacy groups that pushed a boycott of her advertisers, and this led to the cancellation of her network television talk show. She calls homosexuality a "biological error'' and calls those who tried to silence her mean-spirited censors who believe in diversity only to include their own fanaticism. Her enemies call her a fascist (and worse).

You don't have to agree with Dr. Laura on everything (and I don't) to appreciate how she filled a place in the popular media for women who take pride in being mothers first and who felt abandoned by contemporary feminists who measure female success only by careers and jobs outside the home.

She is famous, has a prominent career in radio, writes books and makes lots of money, "but nothing, absolutely nothing, comes before being my kid's mom.'' Most of her callers identify themselves as "my kid's mom,'' too. That message brought her to the attention of conservative women and to Washington to accept a leadership award from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, a network of conservative women.

If she were a movie character, she says, "I'd be the Gladiator.'' She battling the unleashed lions of political correctness and a deconstructed morality, telling parents that if they don't want to raise their children they shouldn't have them.

She should know. She had a hard time getting pregnant because, as a free sexual spirit in the '70s, she took precautions meant to be more or less permanent, and by the time she wanted to reverse all that, "I had 37-year-old eggs.'' She sought the help of a fertility clinic.

When you're young, she tells an audience, it's hard to understand that you may pay a price later for undisciplined freedom. "Later'' seems forever away. She tells how she was "warped'' by sexual permissiveness and thought it possible to "liberate the self from womanhood.'' Once, in those liberated years when she was a college professor and a student confided that she was pregnant, she replied: "I'm so sorry.'' The abashed student was married and actually eager to be a mom.

Having once been on the same frequency with Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, Dr. Laura says now that she was wrong, wrong, wrong. No longer concerned with what feels good, she speaks of what's right according to her reading of the Old Testament.

Dr. Laura is to emotional problems what Bill O'Reilly is to politics, with hard-edged take-it-or-leave-it straight talk. That's what her callers crave and her detractors loathe. Friendly callers don't always like the advice she gives them -- she's fast and tough and takes no prisoners -- but they trust her to call it as she sees it. She devastates the caller who wants to destroy the baby in her belly rather than give birth and give it up for adoption.

Her advice seekers are often young and directionless, clueless to absolutes in their search for absolution. The speech patrollers who killed her television show sing "Ding dong the witch is dead.'' But lots of women who are their kids' moms sing of her as a phoenix, rising from ashes on 440 radio stations, speaking to them loud and clear.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS