When political parties became lured by big money, big ideas about how to help the working stiffs of America went right out the window. That's part of what national political …
When political parties became lured by big money, big ideas about how to help the working stiffs of America went right out the window. That's part of what national political commentator Jim Hightower will explain when he speaks at a benefit for the Taos County Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of New Mexico on Monday (July 22), 6 p.m., at Old Martina's Hall, 4140 State Road 68 in Ranchos de Taos.
Hightower is a best-selling author, radio commentator, nationally syndicated columnist and editor of The Hightower Lowdown, a populist political newsletter.
The topic of his talk in Taos is "There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos."
Using a dash of humor, homespun commonsense and a sharp viewpoint when it comes to hard-line, take-no-prisoners politics, Hightower doesn't exactly fit the stereotype of what some people might label a left-wing rabble-rouser. For one thing, Hightower said in an interview with Tempo Friday (July 12), it's a mistake to think there is a left to right spectrum in politics.
"The middle of the road has now been defined nationally by the Republican Party as right-wing extremism," he said. "So, merely advocating policies that come straight out of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt is perceived as socialism by [President] Donald Trump and much of the media."
For those with a dictionary handy, socialism is defined as "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." It is a philosophy that has been turned into a buzzword by many conservatives when referring to progressive Democrats and those of the "far left."
And about that right-wing or left-wing question, Hightower says that's an illusion. "In my view, it is and always has been top to bottom. That's reality. That's where you live. And, the vast majority of Americans are no longer in shouting distance of the powers at the top, whether they call themselves Republicans or Democrats. That's the political reality that has to be addressed."
How that evolved to the present all boils down to money, Higtower said. "In the 1980s, the national Democratic Party and the Congressional Democratic Committee decided they could take the corporate money that Republicans were taking and be able to compete with the Republicans, but I can tell you as one who has been in Texas politics, if you take the corporate check written on the back is the corporate agenda. And, it's the corporations that are going to be cashing that check, not you."
So, as each party took advantage of more and more corporate cash, their message became alarmingly similar. Gone were "policies to benefit regular working stiffs and the environment, pollution, consumers, etc."
Hightower was raised in Denison, Texas, in a family of small business people, tenant farmers and working folks, his online bio reads. 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).
"In 1982, when I was first elected along with Ann Richards … we all ran progressive campaigns and ran together in a unified effort, and all of us won," Hightower said. After that, for a 20-year period, "there were no statewide Democrats elected," which people assumed meant that the state had turned red. "Well, hogwash. They didn't turn right-wing at all. What Texas became was a non-voting state, because the people who had been voting Democrat -- working stiffs and farmers -- no longer heard themselves in the political conversation. Republicans would espouse a strong corporate agenda and Democrats would espouse a lighter version of that. So, people just quit voting."
Now, "voter turnout is based on turn on" and that "we have to have a politics that turns people on again."
Back to President Trump. A number of the president's tweets suggest he is particularly upset that not only does the left throw up roadblocks to his policies but they simply do not respect him or his office. As someone who comes from Texas, a state where many believe respect is something earned and not simply bestowed, does Trump deserve respect simply because he is president? "Of course not," Hightower said. "Mark Twain said, 'Loyalty to country always, loyalty to the government when it deserves it.' And, this guy has shown again and again that he doesn't deserve it … he's a bootstraps guy, except that daddy bought the boots."
Hightower, according to his promotional materials, has spent the past four decades battling on behalf of consumers, working families, small businesses, farmers, environmentalists and just plain folks. Twice elected to statewide office in Texas, he is recognized as a "populist agitator" who believes that the true political spectrum is not right to left, but top to bottom.
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."
And, by the way, Hightower highly supports Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. To find out how much and why, you might want to stop by his talk and find out. Tickets are $20 in advance at taosvotesblue.com and $25 at the door.
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