Dennis Prager
Dennis Prager
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Think a Second Time
ISBN: 069451604X
Think a Second Time
Dennis Prager talked about his book, "Think a Second Time," published by Harper Collins. The book is a collection of 43 essays from his quarterly journal entitled Ultimate Issues over the past ten years. He also talked about his Jewish heritage and his perspectives on various issues. He also talked about his career as a radio and television talk show host. He also expressed his strong support for C-SPAN.
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TRANSCRIPT
Think a Second Time
Program Air Date: February 4, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dennis Prager, one of the words that I saw most often in your book was the Holocaust. How come?
DENNIS PRAGER, AUTHOR, "THINK A SECOND TIME": Really? You know, I said “Really?” you know, thinking, Oh, I should answer immediately, “Well, of course.” I didn't know that. I find that interesting. But it's not odd. I do find it interesting. I'd love to do a Nexus on my own book. I wrote in the introduction that I was profoundly affected by it. That, in and of itself, really ought to be a book that I would write on how someone utterly unaffected, familially -- my whole family was in America during the Holocaust -- would be so affected by something that never happened to himself or any member of his family. And yet it's the unspoken issue for most Jews, I suspect. I know that if my grandparents hadn't moved to this country, I would never have been born. My parents would have been gassed. It's a very powerful thing to realize. I don't let that, however, build in me a victim mentality or an angry at the world mentality.

In fact, I don't have that at all, frankly. But it's there. What it did affect in me was not Jew vs. the world. It was people are not basically good -- that was, to me, the most important effect that the Holocaust had on me. I don't believe that it was an aberration. And Rwanda and Cambodia and Armenia and communism and Nazism and Bosnia right now reconfirm murder and torture are in the human soul. And I worry about that. And that's why the first essay in the book is about people not being basically good.
LAMB: When did you start worrying about all this?
PRAGER:Believe it or not, very young. My wife says that I was born mature and I think she was right. I had thought differently very early on and always, always in terms of good and evil, but only when applicable. Like on sexual matters I don't think they're applicable and I made that clear in the book. But when it's applicable, I think everybody has to ask the question: Is it right? Even if you do the wrong thing, at least don't lie to yourself that it's OK. But when kids got bullied at school, it bugged me. If an ugly girl was seated on the side in a dance, it bothered me. And I would go over and talk even though I was, you know, dying to be with the pretty girls. But it just bugs me. I can't stand cruelty. I have a visceral reaction against it.
LAMB: Where were you born?
PRAGER:Brooklyn, New York.
LAMB: What year?
PRAGER:1948.
LAMB: What were your parents like? Are they still alive?
PRAGER:My parents are still alive, very vigorous, in their late 70s. My parents are a fascinating amalgamation. They both grew up with European Jewish parents, especially my father. His parents didn't even speak English, only Yiddish. And by the way, just to throw in, since this is so revealing -- your interviews -- if they had bilingual education when my father grew up I wouldn't be with you today. I wouldn't be writing books in English. I wouldn't be a talk show host in Los Angeles. I am so opposed to bilingual education, in part precisely because of the experience of my own family, that had to learn English immediately.

But my father was an officer in the Navy in World War II. And they are very modern American and very traditional. And that ability to live in synch with the society and love this country -- I have a tearful love for this country because I know how bad the world is; that's why I love America that much and yet be so rooted in traditional Judaism, though I'm not orthodox, but still very religiously motivated, not and active -- I learned that well. My father baked challa, the special Friday night bread, on his ship. And he was one of a tiny number of Jews on his ship fighting the Japanese. That ability to bake challa on your Navy ship, I think, I've translated into my own life with a very great deal of openness about my Judaism and yet an immersion in the larger world.
LAMB: You talk about how important your personal friends are and you name them ...
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: ... in this book.
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: Was it hard to pick the ones that you picked and leave out some of the others.
PRAGER:Well, yes, in that sense it was. And I mention that there are others I just don't see as frequently. I learned at a very early age -- and that is another theme of my life. I dedicated the book to two children that I never met in my life, that I'm not related to. My belief that blood is not as important as love is why I so value my friends, or I guess I value my friends, and then came to understand that blood is not nearly as important as love. And I dedicated it to Jessica DeBoer and the boy named Baby Richard, two kids taken from their loving homes because some judges thought that blood is more important than a child's welfare, which just eats me up.
LAMB: Where was this? Where are they from? Where do they live?
PRAGER:Well, Jessica DeBoer's the famous Baby Jessica, who was taken from her parents. She was two and a half. That was in Michigan.
LAMB: How old is she now?
PRAGER:Now she's probably about five. And the Baby Richard case happened in April -- April 30th of 1995. And I spent five months writing a 23,000 word essay, which is not in the book, it was a little too late for the book, on how could judges take a four year old boy from his parents to give him to a birth father who had never even seen him? At any rate, that's another issue, but I really understood, because of my love that I have gotten and given to friends, that love is more important than blood. I mean, I love more friends than I do family. Not that I don't love my family, but in sheer numbers, I have more people that I love whom I'm not related to than I am related to, and it certainly led to my great belief that adoption may be the greatest solution to the world's problems.
LAMB: You also wrote another book, and in that the gentleman you wrote the book with is mentioned a number of times.
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: Who is it and what was the first book?
PRAGER:Yes. Well, actually, I wrote two books with him, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, and he's gone on to write many books, including murder mysteries as well as very wonderful books on Judaism. We met in our second year in high school -- it was a Jewish high school, Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York. He went on to be a rabbi; I went on to be a heretic. No, not exactly, but at any rate, we have been close all our lives, since the age of 15. In fact, I asked him -- I am so close with him and so trust him, I asked him to choose which essays I should rewrite for the book. In other words, we chose from -- I've been producing a journal called Ultimate Issues for 10 years.
LAMB: Ultimate Issues.
PRAGER:Yes. I write a quarterly journal of my thoughts on all these different issues and ...
LAMB: How big is it?
PRAGER:It's got 9,000 subscribers.
LAMB: But how many pages is it every time?
PRAGER:It's 16 to 30 pages. It varies on what my passion are that quarter.
LAMB: And what's it cost someone?
PRAGER:It costs $25 a year. There's obviously no advertising. People know it because somebody got them a gift subscription and then they renewed. And the address is at the end of the book. But I wrote it because I never wanted to be edited -- in other words, by an editor. I want all my works edited by people that I want, but I don't want to cut here or to fit, you know, this amount of space in a magazine. And then I decided to publish after rewriting all of them, and he chose which I should rewrite, which is all 43, but there were 90 to choose from, and I took 43.
LAMB: And there are 43 different items in here.
PRAGER:Forty three different subjects, yeah.
LAMB: At one point, you say, “I almost never watch television.”
PRAGER:Right.
LAMB: And then you tell us about a fellow named Robert Turner, who is a subscriber to Ultimate Issues, who is with Multimedia Television, who got you a television show.
PRAGER:Yeah.
LAMB: Now what's a man who never watches...
PRAGER:Isn't that a riot?
LAMB: ... television doing on a television show?
PRAGER:I can't think of a funnier thing in TV land than me having a daily show. They would ask me to have guests who were -- everybody in the studio, all my producers, household names on television, and I had never heard of them because I basically don't watch, except, and I don't want to seem patronizing -- I adore C SPAN. And I'll tell you the difference, and it's a very important distinction: C SPAN lets the viewer judge. When TV does that -- I'll give you an example, though it'll obviously slightly politicize things, and I don't really want to, because politics is not my first interest, but I was very angry what was done to Clarence Thomas. I feel that if you build up a moral account, a bank account in your life, you should be able to rely on it, and to have one person come and say you did something not terribly bad, after all, 10 years earlier and then be humiliated on national television was very upsetting to me.

But the point relating to C SPAN and TV: When people saw the entire proceedings, then Clarence Thomas was vindicated in most people's eyes. When the media had their year and two years to talk about it, it shifted over to Anita Hill -- shows the power of media translating life for you, as opposed to the people seeing it directly. That's why what you do with the candidates on the road is so valuable. I feel that I get to know them. That's when TV can be good, and The History Channel and The Learning Channel, etc. But generally speaking, I have one question that I always pose to my radio talk show audience in Los Angeles, say, “If you were told by a doctor you had a year to live -- one year to live -- do you think you would watch as much television in the next year as you do now?” And that generally clinches the argument that it's mostly a waste of time.
LAMB: When did you move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles?
PRAGER:1976.
LAMB: Why?
PRAGER:I was very involved in Jewish life at the time. I had written my first book on Judaism.
LAMB: And what was the name of that book?
PRAGER:"The Nine Questions People Ask about Judaism," which is still in print -- Simon & Schuster paperback -- and it sounds like I'm bragging, but I will, I guess ... it's the most widely used introduction to Judaism in the world, and it has been for 20 years.
LAMB: And then there's the second book that has an interesting title.
PRAGER:"Why the Jews? The Reason for Anti Semitism," also still in print -- Simon & Schuster paperback. And I came out to Los Angeles because I was invited by a 76 year old man who had found, at a Jewish retreat center called the Brandeis Institute -- not related to the university, but actually founded by Justice Brandeis with this man, Schlomo Bardin. And he invited this 26 year old to be his successor. He announced I'd be his successor and died that week. It was very dramatic.
LAMB: You say you've been married twice.
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: First marriage, what year?
PRAGER:1980 or “81.
LAMB: How long did it last?
PRAGER:Five years.
LAMB: How many children?
PRAGER:From that marriage?
LAMB: Yes.
PRAGER:One child.
LAMB: Second marriage?
PRAGER:One child and a stepdaughter.
LAMB: So you have three kids?
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: Which you -- how old are they? You name them in here.
PRAGER:Nineteen, 12 and three -- Anya, David and Aaron.
LAMB: Ultimate Issues ...
PRAGER:Family.
LAMB: ... television ...
PRAGER:Yeah.
LAMB: ... radio talk show. When did that start and who hears it?
PRAGER:Well, 500,000 people a day, according to the ratings here in LA. I'm on three hours a day. My dream is to have a national radio talk show, because what I talk about is not specific to Los Angeles. It's the great human issues and it's been a tremendous vehicle for me, but to answer you specifically -- in ‘82 -- I'll tell you how it happened.

Again, I'd come to all of this from a religion based life. The head of KABC radio, George Green, asked a woman named Roberta Weintraub, who was head of the board of education in Los Angeles -- said, “I need somebody to moderate our public affairs show, "Religion on the Line," where we need a moderator for a priest, rabbi, minister every Sunday night. He has to know a lot about religion, can't be a clergyman and needs to know how to speak.”

Well, she had heard me deliver a lecture at that institute. She mentioned my name, and I had my first tryout on radio at KABC Radio on a Sunday night in August, ‘82, and I was so nervous, I was dripping. And then, at 11 p.m., the program director whispers to me or slips me a note, “Tell them you'll be on next Sunday night” -- one of the happiest moments of my life, because I had so ached to get my ideas out. I'm like a cow who has milk to give and I've been dying to give it my whole life. So I was engaged in interfaith dialogue every Sunday night with a priest, minister, rabbi -- and usually I expanded it to Muslims and Buddhists and every religion -- for two hours every Sunday night for 10 years, and it is one of the things that changed my life.
LAMB: Why?
PRAGER:I'll tell you exactly why. At about the four year mark something dawned on me that is a very powerful dawning -- for some others, it may elicit a yawn, but for me, remember, I come from a very religious Jewish background. And this would be true for anyone in any religion, if they come to this realization -- how important it would be. And I said it on the air. I said, “You know, the moment you realize that there are people in other religions whom you consider to be at least as good as you think you are, at least as intelligent as you think you are and at least as religious as you think you are, you will never be the same.” When I would meet Christians and Muslims and Catholic, Protestants and so on, and people whom I so respected and who so clearly were God and decency oriented, I could no longer say, “There is only one true religion.” And so it in no way lessened my own belief in Judaism, but I now see other religions as vehicles to God for other people, and that's a very powerful thing.
LAMB: What time of day is your radio show?
PRAGER:Noon to three, Monday to Friday.
LAMB: And what's the difference between sitting there in front of the radio microphone and doing your television show, which is taped when?
PRAGER:Well, it's no longer on the air, which I explain in the book. To do a TV talk show on serious themes, like I do on the radio show -- here is an example where conservatives have to be aware that free enterprise is not always on their side. When ratings are the only determinant, you don't have much time to do much quality on commercial television. You just don't. They give you, on radio, more time, but on TV you get about three months. You didn't hit the ratings, goodbye. I got six months, and I would have built an audience, but I didn't, not to the sufficient numbers that a dysfunctional family or female strippers or male strippers would have. And so I had my chance and it failed, which to say that I'm not surprised -- I was only surprised that I even had a chance in TV, given what I talk about.
LAMB: I watched it here in town at 3:00 in the morning.
PRAGER:That's the typical time it was on.
LAMB: But that's the only time it was on.
PRAGER:Yes. Exactly.
LAMB: And how could they base whether or not it was a success at that time of morning?
PRAGER:I couldn't agree with you more, but local station owners look at me and they look at "Geraldo"; look at me and they look at "Jenny Jones" or whatever and say, “Hey, this guy is good.” That's what I got. I was told at NATV conventions -- that's the National TV conventions -- “Dennis, really love your show. Finally, something quality.” But, you know -- Jenny draws the numbers. People with traditional values, even -- I don't know how they fully reconcile having certain values on Sunday and then different values at their workplace. It's a real challenge for religious conservatives and, for that matter, non religious conservatives because, obviously, they -- and I include myself among them on many issues -- are a big fan of the marketplace. But the marketplace, like Darwin in nature, is amoral. It's a real dilemma.
LAMB: How much time have you ever spent in this town?
PRAGER:Oh, periodic visits, that's all.
LAMB: If a stranger was coming to you from outside of the world, outside of this world that we live in, and said, “From your perspective in Los Angeles, radio talk show host speaker, book writer, articles writer, tell me what your image is of Washington ...”
PRAGER:I tell my listeners, in fact, all the time, “What happens in your house is ultimately much more important for America than what happens in the White House or in the House of Representatives.” I do believe that; I still believe that. It's so understandable that, living here, one would think this is the center of events on Earth. It isn't. It's the center of events on Earth if there's a Cuban missile crisis. But for daily life it is not the center, and I would like it to even be less important because I do not trust power, even among people I love. I think Lord Acton had it totally right, that power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is true for religion. It is true for secular government. And so the more it is dispersed, the better it is. America's a democracy, I'm convinced, because Protestants founded it, and Protestants were not united. Because there were so many Protestant denominations, there had to be democracy. Catholicism didn't found this country; my religion, Judaism, didn't found this country. A non power had to found democracy. So I don't trust concentrated power.
LAMB: But what do you see here, though? And how much do you pay attention to it from where you are?
PRAGER:I don't pay that -- to be honest, I don't pay that much attention. You know, when the recent budget crisis ... I comment on it on my radio show. If you really wanted a lot of commentary on it, there were other talk shows to turn to. I'm not saying it's unimportant; I'm saying it's less important than it is made out to be. This country will not rise or fail with -- the Democrats prevail on the budget or the Republicans prevail on the budget. It will rise or fail on how Americans raise their kids, on how they lead their own lives, and that's why it's all, to me, a values question.

I was angry at the Democratic motto, “It's the economy, stupid.” I kept saying on the air [and] now it's become popular -- not for me, but the phrase -- “Its values, stupid.” It is values. In fact, I have my chapter in the book of the two great lies of the 20th century, the lie of the right and the lie of the left. The light of the right: Race determines behavior. The lie of the left: Economics determines behavior, as embodied in this terrible, terrible lie that poverty causes crime. It's a terrible lie, as terrible as race causes crime, because it’s not true. Bad values cause crime, and the proof is, if poverty causes crime, then affluence causes honesty. But nobody believes that. I mean, you know, it's so obvious. In America, people who murder are bad. They're not poor; they're bad. Or they're bad and poor, but first, they're bad. My grandparents were poorer than the average person in the inner city today. They didn't hurt a soul. My grandmother spent most of her time collecting charity for even poorer people. She had a value system. It bugs me, the economic determinism.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
PRAGER:Brooklyn College; University of Leeds, England; Columbia University Graduate School.
LAMB: Studied what?
PRAGER:Got my BA in history and Middle Eastern studies; in England, did comparative religion; and at Columbia University, I was at the Russian Institute and the Middle East Institute of the School of International Affairs; did Arabic, Hebrew and Russian and spent a lot of time in Communist countries, studying communism.
LAMB: I mentioned earlier that one of the things ... that word that you see a lot is the Holocaust. Another name that you see a lot in your book is Marx.
PRAGER:Really? Well, I know the Nexus on that one.
LAMB: Why?
PRAGER:Well, Marx is a prophet. Marx is a false prophet, but Marx's power is a powerful thinker, and I guess it's a reflection of the fact that I studied so much Marxism, it's still in my brain. But, you know, one of my favorite essays in there is when they laughed at Mrs. Reagan for belief in astrology, and here I was at Columbia, seeing professors believing in Marxism. I mean, you know, between the two, I'll take astrology any day. It doesn't hurt anybody if you believe you have the sun rising in Venus or Venus rising in the sun. I don't remember the exact terminology, but something is rising somewhere. But ...
LAMB: Has Marx totally failed?
PRAGER:Marx totally failed in his lifetime. Marx totally failed in all of his predictions. The notion that there is an inexorable law of history that goes from feudalism to capitalism to socialism, it's a joke. It's a bad joke. And yet, brilliant people believe in this stuff. Yes, of course it's a failure. To acknowledge that economics is important is true. It's funny. Things turn from true to lie when they are used to explain everything. Religious people do it, too, and so I'm self critical. When they say, “Everything is solved if you just immerse yourself in religion,” that's not true. Religion is powerful and necessary, but it's not everything, nor is economics, nor is psychology. But people who believe in one of those tend to believe it explains everything. We're very complex. A lot of things explain us.
LAMB: What's your wife like?
PRAGER:Well, I wrote about her. You got me. You really know how to -- I really love my wife, and ...
LAMB: What's her name?
PRAGER:Fran. And I met her in a very touching way, actually. I was looking for an apartment after my first marriage had ended, and I couldn't find the landlord and so knocked on the first door in the apartment building to find out where the landlord was, and she opened the door. And I didn't let her close it. And she let me in after 20 minutes -- stranger. But that's the trust that was there so readily.
LAMB: What's your relationship with your three kids?
PRAGER:Oh, it's very powerful, beautiful. I ...
LAMB: What do you do to raise them -- or, they're getting up there in years now, but you obviously think all this stuff through.
PRAGER:Yes. I'll tell you what I purposely did and do. I drive them crazy on only one issue. My belief is that parents have to drive kids crazy on very few issues or you literally drive them crazy. I do not drive them crazy on grades, as most people from my background -- I mean, socioeconomic and Jewish and middle class and intellectual, etc. I drive them crazy on character. I only get angry if I see meanness, if I see a lie or something like that. And if they don't get great grades, they don't get great grades. That's ...
LAMB: How often do you see them?
PRAGER:Oh, all the time. I gave up a lot of things in order to be more with my children. I have a motto on that -- a motto on everything -- and that is, there is one time -- there's a very brief period, relatively, in life where your children are aching to spend time with you. If you don't then, then they won't spend time when you ache to spend time with them later. And so it's almost, if you will, an enlightened self interest. When they say, “Daddy, watch,” I get up from my comfortable chair and I do watch. And, Daddy this, or, Daddy that -- when I travel on the road, I will frequently ... I'm on a book tour now. I brought my whole family to the East Coast for the weekend to be with me. It's the best investment of money I could think of, is to be as much with your family as possible.
LAMB: Do you write Ultimate Issues and things like this book yourself?
PRAGER:Yes, totally myself. I have a lot of people then read it and criticize it. In fact, I wrote in there not only did Joseph Telushkin read it and edit and criticize; he got someone who doesn't agree with me to edit and criticize. I want the argument so powerful that people who totally disagree with me are my editors.
LAMB: You name Judy Regan.
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: And as I remember correctly, she got Rush Limbaugh started in the book business. And then split off and did her own ...
PRAGER:Yes. Right. She has her own imprint at HarperCollins.
LAMB: What's so special about her? I mean, you suggested she played a role in making this happen.
PRAGER:Well, I when I was told by my agent that Judith Regan wants to publish this, I was very happy, because my great dream is to get my ideas to as many people as possible, and that's her forte. You know, you can have gold, but if it's not discoverable, it's not terribly worthwhile.
LAMB: How did you do it?
PRAGER:How did I do what?
LAMB: How did you get her attention to do this book?
PRAGER:I say my agent did. I have no idea how he did it. I just, one day, got a call and then went feverishly at a computer.
LAMB: On the back of this book here is an endorsement by Bill Bennett.
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: How does stuff like that happen, and do you know Bill Bennett?
PRAGER:Yes. I'm pretty close with Bill and Elaine. I'm a co director of -- if that's the correct title -- of Empower America, which he and Jack Kemp and Jeane Kirkpatrick are ultimate co directors of, but I'm one of the directors of it.
LAMB: Why are you doing that?
PRAGER:They're very good people, and I want good people to have a base and I want to -- if I can help in some way, then I want to be with them. They're good people who fight. It's not good enough to be good and not fight, and there are a lot of people who have bad ideas who fight, so I like when good people fight.
LAMB: You say that you are radically moderate.
PRAGER:Well, actually, passionately centrist, and I may have used the term radically moderate, yeah.
LAMB: But the only ... you're quite critical -- and correct me if I'm wrong here -- about liberalism.
PRAGER:Oh, yeah.
LAMB: And you write a lot about liberalism...
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: ...but you say you're a moderate.
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: And what happened to the conservative label?
PRAGER:My biggest disappointment has been in liberalism. If I were writing in the ‘50s, it would have been a lot of attacks on conservatism. But the irony is, like on an issue I feel very passionately about, being racially blind, with all the laughter that it could arouse and sneers and snickers, I don't have a racist bone in my body, and...
LAMB: How do you know?
PRAGER:Because I know me real well and I know the ultimate motivating factor of my life. Remember, I'm the guy debunking blood. It's part of the deepest held beliefs in me that race, blood, ethnicity, don't mean anything; values mean everything -- love, values. So it's at the core of my being, that belief. And that belief, that race doesn't matter -- which was liberal when I grew up -- is now conservative. The liberal world has supplanted values -- a values orientation to life with race gender class, what I call the Stanford Trinity.

And it's a very dangerous thing; because it literally devalues values. My motto in life -- and it's not my own words, it's taken from Viktor Frankel, a Jewish psychoanalyst who went through the Holocaust. He came out not hating all Germans, which is a pretty powerful thing to do when you come out of Auschwitz. And he said why, and this is, again, the role my wife plays. She was reading the book and gave me this line, and it is, “There are only two races, the decent and the indecent.” That is my belief in life. That's why I can criticize my own, whether it be fellow Jews or fellow Americans or fellow conservatives -- not to the extent that I'm a conservative, and why I can -- why? I'll tell you.

With all the Holocaust thinking in my brain, I visited Germany in 1969. I had a German girlfriend. When I was in England, I used to go to Hamburg to visit her. And, you know, my Jewish relatives who had found out about this were horrified, a) that I would visit Germany. They said, “How can you go there? The blood of our brothers and sisters, six million deep, is under your feet.” But I thought for a moment and I go, ‘You know, this is 1969. It's 24 years since 1945. Since, in Judaism, we don't blame anybody for anything before bar mitzvah age of 13, 24 and 13 is 37. So anybody 37 or younger is completely absolved from guilt. And those are the people -- I mean, I'm 21 years old. Who am I going to associate with? And how could I hold them guilty? That's why I'm angry, calling America racist for slavery. It's wrong. It's wrong to hold the young generation of Germans guilty for the Holocaust. It's plain wrong.
LAMB: You say that after you went to see the movie "Gettysburg"...
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: ... you wanted to find a battle figure.
PRAGER:Yeah.
LAMB: What was it and why?
PRAGER:Because, again, it was this little epiphany that took place. Wait a minute. I keep hearing Jefferson had slaves. I keep hearing America is, like, endemically racist. And then, all of a sudden, it occurs to me, “Then why did all these whites die in the Civil War?” Now I know it's fashionable to say, “Well, they were there to just preserve the Union. They didn't give a damn about slavery,” but that's not true. You read their letters. Slavery -- first of all, slavery is the cause of the secession, OK? So to say the Civil War was only about secession and not slavery is absurd. The secession is because of slavery. A lot of white guys died to liberate black slaves.
LAMB: Three hundred and fifty six thousand?
PRAGER:Yes, 350,000 is the Civil War total. Right.
LAMB: Of Union ...
PRAGER:Yes, just of Union dead. That's right.
LAMB: There were about 650,000 altogether.
PRAGER:Yes -- or more. I don't know the Confederate deaths. But that's a very powerful -- you know, it's so funny. I know, in Jewish life, we are always looking -- not all, but a lot of Jews are always looking, and, indeed, we hold dinners honoring the rescuers that we could find from Europe, honoring them. You know, it's like we're aching -- or, at least, this Jew aches to find those good non Jews in Europe who rescued Jews, because it would be too despairing to think there was nobody rescuing. And it seems today that it's fashionable for blacks and whites who agree with the black leadership not only not to look for good whites, but to dismiss the reality of them. I mean, it's a very, very bad trend that's taking place. There are a lot of good white people in this country.
LAMB: What would you say would be the most important thing that a Jew believes?
PRAGER:Should believe or does believe?
LAMB: Either way.
PRAGER:They're very different.
LAMB: Does.
PRAGER:Does believe? Liberalism.
LAMB: Should.
PRAGER:Ethical monotheism, one God for all humanity and one ethic for all humanity. That's...
LAMB: What's another important -- I mean, do you believe in the hereafter?
PRAGER:Yes, and Judaism does. First sentence in the Encyclopedia Judaica, written by secular Jewish scholars, under afterlife: Judaism has always affirmed a belief in an afterlife. A good example of where Jews and Judaism differ: Most Jews have accepted secular beliefs and don't even know that Judaism believes in it.
LAMB: Did you say in this book -- I think -- I'm pretty sure you did -- that even if there was no God, we'd be better off having religion?
PRAGER:I don't know if I said that in the book, but I do believe that, in any event.
LAMB: Why?
PRAGER:Dostoyevski was right in "Brothers Karamazov." “Where there is no God, all is permitted.” I debated at Oxford -- it's a debate I didn't publish there. It's in my journal.
LAMB: When?
PRAGER:About three years ago, at Oxford, I debated their professor of moral philosophy, who's an atheist.
LAMB: At the union or...
PRAGER:At another function, but I don't remember exactly. And the debate was: Can you be good without religion -- or, without God -- can you be good without God? And he acknowledged -- and that's how I knew I was debating an honest man, because most secular people don't acknowledge this. He acknowledged my key point. If, in fact, there is no God, good and evil are utterly subjective. In order to have an objective good and evil, you must have a transcendent objective source, which we call God. And so -- now that doesn't answer his challenge. So let's say you do have God and you know there's objective good and evil. How do you know what it is? That was his argument, which is a fair and valid and good argument. But at least he acknowledged the key point here: No God, then torturing children is not objectively bad; it's subjectively bad for those who believe it's bad.
LAMB: You say you grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family.
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: What are you today?
PRAGER:I am a non orthodox, religious Jew.
LAMB: You're smiling.
PRAGER:You're right, I'm smiling, because within Jewish life I'm in the no man's land, denominationally. I am equally comfortable, and yet not fully a member, as it were, although I attend, of course, services each week. When people find out that I won't broadcast on a Jewish holiday or -- in fact, it was a very powerful thing -- the night of the O.J. Simpson verdict, I was invited to be one of only two people on "Nightline," and I had so much passion about that verdict and I was so dying to talk, essentially, to a country -- you know, it's a very popular show. But it was Yom Kippur night, the holiest night of the Jewish calendar, and I turned it down. I don't broadcast on Jewish holidays or Saturday. But the point I want to make is why I smiled: Any Jew who knows that, even non Jews who know that, assume I'm orthodox, and it's very sad to me that if you take Judaism seriously, it's almost definitional to most Jews that you're Orthodox. So I'm a serious Jew, but I'm not denominational.
LAMB: Of all the things you do, the radio show, three hours a day, five days a week ... Ultimate Issues comes out -- what? four times a year ...?
PRAGER:Yeah.
LAMB: ... 25 bucks -- anybody can buy it, I assume.
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: The television show is now defunct. When did you do your last one?
PRAGER:Oh, in January of ‘95, I think, the last tapings.
LAMB: Well, they were still running a couple months ago here.
PRAGER:That's right. They were. I know that.
LAMB: And speaking -- do you do much of that?
PRAGER:A lot of speaking. I speak, literally, around the world. In February of ‘96 I'll be in Bombay, speaking, in fact. I speak a lot. I could make a living and enjoy it just lecturing, but it would be too big a price on my family.
LAMB: In all this, how do you keep yourself -- let me ask you first, do you consciously think about staying interesting? And if you do, how do you do it, to an audience?
PRAGER:The only time it's a challenge is three hours a day, every day, to the same people, essentially, in Los Angeles on the radio show. How do you stay interesting for three hours a day, especially when I don't cover every breaking story? And I am blessed. My mind is like a valley of flowers. I mean, it's just -- you know, Schubert said melodies just came to his brain; ideas just come to my brain.
LAMB: But what's a day like for you?
PRAGER:I wake up and read six newspapers, magazines.
LAMB: Which ones?
PRAGER:I read the LA Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the editorial page -- USA Today, editorial pages of The Orange County Register and Valley Daily News.
LAMB: Where do you live?
PRAGER:Live in L.A. itself.
LAMB: What time do you get up every day?
PRAGER:What time do I want to get up ...
LAMB: Yes.
PRAGER:... or do I get up? It depends on the three year old. I am a night person. I would like to go to bed at 3 and wake up at 10, but married life does not allow for that.
LAMB: So what time do you ...
PRAGER:So I wake up -- I get up about 8:00.
LAMB: How much time do you spend reading?
PRAGER:Much of the day. I read a lot.
LAMB: And what other habits? You say you don't watch television, so...
PRAGER:Right. Well, I'm very immersed in music. I, in fact, periodically conduct orchestras in the Los Angeles area as a -- classical music. I studied a lot of music.
LAMB: But if we find you reading, where in the house -- in a den, or do you have an office?
PRAGER:You will find me reading -- that's a good question -- anywhere. There's no one place -- so long as I have one of my trusted, beloved fountain pens to mark up the article. If...
LAMB: What kind of fountain pen?
PRAGER:I would tell you, except that I love every brand. Every brand has its unique ... which do I think makes the best fountain pen in the world? God, this will -- I do a lot of fountain pen advertising and I'm afraid.
LAMB: I won't press you on this important issue.
PRAGER:Yeah. I know. Isn't that funny? This is the one stump. Isn't that really funny? Now -- you know, God and morality, no problem.
LAMB: But the fountain pen ...
PRAGER:Fountain pen. The day I didn't answer a question, see?
LAMB: Yes. That's right. You can get off on this and I'll let you go.
PRAGER:OK. Fine.
LAMB: But I'm leading up to -- do you listen to classical music as you read or as you write?
PRAGER:I do listen to it as I write.
LAMB: Your favorite artist, your favorite composer?
PRAGER:Haydn. One of my dreams in life is to make Haydn more popular. Haydn is the glory -- and I love Mozart; love Beethoven; love Bach. I love him so much that I would like to thank him. I mean, you know, I would like to give him a hug, the amount of joy he has brought to me. And I was just reading in Fanfare magazine, a magazine that classical nuts like me get -- because it's 500 pages of classical record reviews -- and they had a letter from Haydn. They reprinted a letter where he said to someone all he lives for is, in this difficult, difficult world, to bring people some measure of joy. And I thought, “My God, that's what he does in this difficult, difficult world. He brings people joy.”
LAMB: How do you write? Do you write with a fountain pen?
PRAGER:No. I write almost everything straight off the computer. I use the fountain pen to mark things up and I also keep a note of every phone call on my radio show. That's my greatest use for the fountain pen. I tape every show. Some people actually subscribe who can't pick up my shows in LA -- subscribe to the tapes.
LAMB: What's your ultimate dream?
PRAGER:My ultimate dream is to bring the world to ethical monotheism, because that's what I believe my mission is. That's my task.
LAMB: What's your ultimate professional dream?
PRAGER:I would like, very much, to have a national radio show so I could bring these ideas regularly to people. I think I could help heal a country that's bleeding.
LAMB: If you can get 500,000 listeners a day, why can't you go national?
PRAGER:Why am I in LA and some people that are not terribly impressive are national? The people who produce media in this country are not always the deepest thinkers. They sell radio or TV time like others might sell jackets or pickles. It's a business that -- and the thought of, you know, what is excellent is not the first question in their mind; the first question is what will immediately sell? The joke is excellence does sell, but -- and I think one day, it will happen, but that's my most immediate aim. And I have another one in writing.

I would like to write another book with my co author. We did something for Judaism in "The Nine Questions People Ask about Judaism" which apparently has been very powerful. In modern, real, rational English, we made the case for something without using, “You have to believe,” or, “It's traditional; therefore, do it.” And it has affected a lot of people. I would like to do that for America. Americans have forgotten what America is about, and I would like to write a book something like that, "The Nine Questions People Ask about America," to make the case for America like we made the case for Judaism.
LAMB: I don't remember when this was -- you probably do -- this particular essay...
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: ...if I remember correctly, was published in The Wall Street Journal.
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: And it's definitions of words.
PRAGER:That's right.
LAMB: A Guide To The Liberal Use Of Language: How Meanings Of Words Have Been Changed By Leading Institutions In The Media And Academia. How did you get this in the Journal?
PRAGER:I sent it to ... Irving Kristol subscribes to my journal, and I said, “Irving, I think that this belongs in the Journal.” He said, “It certainly does,” and he gave it to an editor and it was in.
LAMB: What kind of reaction did you get to it?
PRAGER:People told me that, “Oh, you're the guy who wrote that?” Oh, yeah. A lot of people just put it on their refrigerator to have, you know, permanent access to the phrases.
LAMB: Well, for instance, here's an definition. “A woman authentic: a woman who holds liberal views.”
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: “Woman inauthentic: a woman who does not hold liberal views.”
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: Thus, Gloria Steinem called conservative Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison a female impersonator. Let me try another one. “Censorship: the refusal of the government to fund an artist liked by the radical wing of the arts establishment. Censors: Christians who boycott violent television shows.”
PRAGER:Right.
LAMB: Is this stuff you've been saving up for a long time?
PRAGER:Oh, yeah. And this took a long time to write, to really -- I listen to language a great deal. You see, right now there's a lot of -- correctly -- antagonism to the right wing in Israel for its language about Rabin and the peace process. And I supported Rabin in the peace process and still do -- continue to do, ever more so. But in this country, the left has done to language what the right in Israel has done to language. You asked me before, “Well, you attack liberalism. Where are you centrist?” The world being larger than America, in some cases, the right is the bigger threat; in some cases, the left is the bigger threat. In Germany the right was the bigger threat. In Israel today the right is the bigger threat. In America, the left is the bigger threat. And I don't care where it comes from; I just identify threats. The totalitarian impulse in America comes from the left, controlling language on campuses, for example. I mean, you know -- and incredible things, like having codes of questions that you ask on dates. “May I unbutton the top button of your blouse?” I mean, those are frightening things. You know, they're laughable, obviously, but they're frightening.
LAMB: What do you think of the book tour? I mean, have you had it?
PRAGER:Listen, I have learned something. You know, it's a little dispiriting and but I try to learn even dispiriting things. Excellence -- as self aggrandizing as this sounds, and I acknowledge that excellence is not enough. As I said earlier, gold, if it's not found, is worthless. And I now realize I have assumed my whole life, “I'll just keep writing and talking, and then it'll be good enough that, just on its own, it will find its larger and larger audience.” And the truth is to a certain extent that has happened. But if you don't publicize, it takes eons. The book will be buried without a book tour. It'll be one of 10,000 new books in the fall of 1995.
LAMB: So what's the tour itself like?
PRAGER:Well, I'm not minding it. You know why? Because when I am free to express my values, I did yesterday 10 interviews on 10 radio stations in the morning alone -- 10. And I wasn't tired, because every time I'm thinking, “Wow. Somebody in Tennessee is hearing these ideas from me for the first time,” and that reinvigorates me for the next interview.
LAMB: What are the questions you're most often asked?
PRAGER:Generally, unlike you, most interviewers do not read the books and will just look at the first chapter, so the most common question has been, “What, you don't think people are basically good?” which is fine with me, because that's a very important subject.
LAMB: Did you know when you wrote the book, or you assembled the book, that that's what it was going to be like?
PRAGER:That choice was made by an editor at Harper Collins, and it turns out to have been a good choice.
LAMB: What about the chapter on adultery?
PRAGER:Adultery and politicians?
LAMB: Yes.
PRAGER:Well...
LAMB: Do you get asked about that?
PRAGER:Yes, I do, and also, “Can a good man go to a striptease show?” which is the first thing a lot of men notice in the book.
LAMB: What's your take on adultery in politics?
PRAGER:I don't care if a politician has committed adultery. I believe, as a religious person and as a married person, I obviously think people should be faithful to their spouses, but I think that's between the person and his or her spouse and God. It's none of my damned business. And it angers me that it is asked of people running for office. I believe that if that truly tells us whether a person can be president or not, then it should tell us whether a person should be an editor at The New York Times. I think we should know -- the editor of The New York Times has a very great deal of power in the United States. Well, why don't we find out if he's faithful to his wife?
LAMB: Another chapter is “TV and Me,” and another section is about television news. And as we talked earlier -- here's another one. “Mysterious disease afflicts American TV transmitters.”
PRAGER:Headlines I'd like to see, yeah.
LAMB: Why?
PRAGER:I had fun with that. Oh, because I think if I could wish for one miracle -- I mean, other than everybody, diseases be cured -- but I would love to see what would happen in America if TV couldn't transmit for a month. I think it would be -- you know, my home, we do not watch TV or listen to the radio for the Sabbath, Friday night to Saturday night. It so changes life in our home, just that. And I use electricity. It's not the religious ban on electricity that Orthodox Jews believe in. As I said, I'm not orthodox. But one day away from this world is so uplifting. It resurrects me, as it were, every week. I have 24 hours away from beatings and muggings and murder and torture and rape. TV has a very powerful and not so great impact.
LAMB: You talk about the weather?
PRAGER:Yeah. That's right. That was a revelation. I wish I knew the woman's name. I love learning from people. It is really one of my highs. And so I talk to strangers all the time -- all the time. And I've learned an immense amount. A woman in a bookstore in -- God, what's the southernmost city in New Jersey?
LAMB: Cherry -- Cherry Hill?
PRAGER:Is it Camden?
LAMB: Camden, is it?
PRAGER:Camden.
LAMB: Right. It's right next door.
PRAGER:In Camden -- I was going to Philadelphia to give a speech and there was nobody in this bookstore in Camden, New Jersey. And I go, “Why is it empty?” I mean, I felt bad for the woman in the store. She said, “Well, didn't you hear the news on the radio? They keep telling you that, you know, it's a major snowstorm.” I said, “But there's no major snowstorm. It's just a little snow.” And she said, “Yeah.” And something to the effect, then, she said, “People sooner believe the TV than they do their own eyes when they look out the window.” And that was a brilliant, brilliant insight. It's true.
LAMB: Palestinians and Jews and the television coverage.
PRAGER:I want this in the context of my being very, very pro the peace process.
LAMB: Right.
PRAGER:And this is not -- I'm not speaking now -- it could have been any other group, but there was the most dramatic, where I realized how distorted television news was when there were literally millions of Afghans being killed, but nothing on the national news about Afghanistan in the ‘80s. But if one Palestinian was wounded during the Intifadah on the West Bank, that was the first item of news on the "World Tonight" or whatever TV broadcast it was. And there was a reason. You could get cameras into Israel; you couldn't get them into Afghanistan. So we end up seeing all the flaws of democracies and none of them of totalitarian tyrannies. And that was when I first began to realize how distortive TV news is.
LAMB: Let me read just one thing. I put a bracket around it. “Most people in the medium of television are in it for success, fame, money and attention, not for an opportunity to elevate an audience. Many have no marriage and children to ground them and few are deeply committed to a religion.”
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: How do you know all that?
PRAGER:Well, I live in television -- the mecca of televisionland, LA. I worked in it. I work with them. I meet them. There's a great book on the people who bring you TV called "The View From Sunset Boulevard," by Ben Stein, and he describes exactly who produces our TV shows. You know, they're very nice people. I mean, again, I wasn't saying they're bad, but they're not in it to elevate; they're in it -- it's exciting and it's glamorous and television is where modernity is at, and “let's produce anything.” And, as I say, they're not grounded because of the family and religion aspect.
LAMB: Here's the cover of the book, and the picture ... a little disjointed there, of Dennis Prager.
PRAGER:Yes.
LAMB: And the title of the book, "Think a Second Time." And we thank you very much for joining us.
PRAGER:Well, that was a fast hour. Thank you so much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.