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Political Mercury

What I learned with Jim Hightower

2/3/2016

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author Jim Hightower, 73, of Austin, Texas, one of America’s most well-known populist voices, has spent four decades battling what he calls the “Powers That Be” on behalf of the “Powers That Ought To Be”  — consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses and just plain folks.

Hightower was raised in Denison, Texas, in a family of small business people, tenant farmers and working folks.

A graduate of the University of North Texas, he worked in Washington as legislative aide to Sen. Ralph Yarborough of Texas; he then co-founded the Agribusiness Accountability Project, a public interest project that focused on corporate power in the food economy; and he was national coordinator of the 1976 “Fred Harris for President” campaign.

Hightower then returned to his home state, where he became editor of the feisty biweekly, The Texas Observer. He served as director of the Texas Consumer Association before running for statewide office and being elected to two terms as Texas Agriculture Commissioner (1983-1991).

As the late political columnist Molly Ivins said, “If Will Rogers and Mother Jones had a baby, Jim Hightower would be that rambunctious child — mad as hell, with a sense of humor.”

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I recently interviewed Hightower at Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ Iowa campaign headquarters in Des Moines. Here are his random comments and answers:

“I’m in support of Bernie Sanders’ populist views and his remarkable ability to convey that as a rather perfect spokesperson for it.” …

“There is a political moment here where America is looking for something like this.” …

“Texas is pretty straightforward, really. What happened in Texas was our Democratic Party quit being Democrats. They began to take that corporate money and run their campaigns on television rather than grassroots.” …

“If you’re a dirt farmer, a consumer or environmentalist, worker, you’re not hearing the messsage of, you know, ‘I’m going to stand with you.’ People getting elected, the right-wing nutballs you hear about and see on television, are getting elected (in Texas) with about 18 percent of the eligible voters.” …

“I’m amused by Donald Trump, and at some level impressed. Because he’s saying some things, too, like ‘Yeah, I gave money to all these politicians because when I called them, they do what I want.’ It’s a pretty straightforward analysis of what Big Money means in politics.” …

“Donald Trump exposes the fraud of the Jeb Bushes and some of these other candidates who, as soon as Trump was scoring points with all this immigrant bashing and just kind of right-wing nonsense, they moved harder over there. They even tried to out-do him.” …

“You can say about Trump, ‘He’s kooky.’ But at least he’s his own kooky.” …

What happens to white, rural Americans if we don’t embrace diversity? “We become totally isolated and dismissed. We did that to poor people over the years. And that’s why, for example, with Bernie Sanders, myself, Franklin Roosevelt and others made sure things like Social Security went to everyone. Because if it’s just a poverty program then we can attack that later on, we’ll take money away. That’s what the right wing says because it’s them. But if it’s everybody in, that we’re all in this together, then it’s not going to be taken away because too many people support it because it means a real benefit to them.” …political mercury

What would you say to Latinos thinking about voting for Republican presidential candidates? “I don’t think there’s a lot of danger of that. They’re bashing Latino community. If you’re going to whip up on somebody, they’re not going to go then vote for you. That has spread dramatically.” …

“One thing Trump has done for the economy is to drive up to extraordinary levels the piñata business in America. There are blonde piñatas all along the Mexican border. From California to Texas, you will find piñata stores with Trump. It is totally true. Piñatas are out there hanging in front of the stores, and they’re all Trump and people are buying them. He’s insulted them.” …

“Thomas Jefferson would just upchuck. He’s the guy who warned about the monied corporations and their ability to amass more money than even the public has, and then to pervert the government to their ends.” …

“The Tea Party rebellion was not against King George III. It was against the East Indian Trading Company.” …

What’s wrong with being an independent? “There’s nothing wrong with it. There are seven independent Republicans in Texas. The rest of them are far right.” …

“You have to have a Franklin D. Roosevelt type of Democratic message or even a John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson-style and Bernie Sanders-style of message.” CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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