Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some Thoughts on Jerry Falwell

My only brush with Jerry Falwell was a Kevin Bacon sixth-remove situation. When I began dating my wife-to-be Marilyn back in 1981, she had just finished working as one of Paul Sarbanes' trio of Legislative Assistants---Teddy Kennedy had dozens---and was part of "Democrats for the Eighties" working out of Pamela and Averill's palatial Georgetown digs [Peter Fenn, now a TV pundit, was her sidekick]. Then came our marriage and Marilyn was hired by the newly formed People for the American Way. In 1982, Marilyn was asked to organize a big fund-raiser in Chicago for Norman Lear, then king of comedy TV, who was a co-founder of PftAW. I came along as driver [my folks lived in nearby Wisconsin and we were also invited to a family Labor Day bash in Burlington].

The crux of the story is while driving Norman around Chicago, he shared with Marilyn and me the real reason behind the formation of People ftA Way. Hollywood feared Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell so deeply that they wanted a family-oriented religion-neutral Democratic organization to do high-profile work on family values. At least that was the plan.

My belief is that Norman, who showed a lot of interest in my own and Marilyn's families, was fascinated because the Wisconsin family Party was going to be held at the parish hall of my Catholic priest uncle---thus combining religion and family [my uncle had perhaps just baptized Tony Romo, now QB of the Dallas Cowboys and dater of the likes of Jessica Simpson, among others.] After we returned from the family get-together, Norman Lear asked again how everything had gone off [Norman was Jewish and his wife Frances Catholic and I had married a Greek Orthodox girl--which intrigued him.]

The Chicago Fund Raiser ended up a success, with prominent Chicagoland Democratic rainmakers [minus the Daley family] attending. Subsequently, Marilyn got into the inner workings of PftAW and discovered a list of the unlisted phone numbers of Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand [reachable through her brother] and a lot of other Hollyweird Nomenklatura. People For quickly morphed into a rather shrill consumer advocate mode, leaving its family-friendly matrix more or less on the drawing board. Norman Lear receded from his hands-on role, and Marilyn eventually became an Account Executive representing Greece and Panama and the Trial Lawyers Association of America for Daniel J. Edelman PR firm, another Democratic in-house organ more or less.

Norman Lear was a sincere opponent of what he feared would become a religious powerhouse in American politics. Lear showed no fear of an American Christian "theocracy," though he did have negative views on Pat Robertson. But the characteristic paranoia of the left did permeate some of his comments.

Perhaps Jerry Falwell's greatest legacy is that his efforts enabled the Christian point of view to become strongly represented in the American political spectrum.

No comments :