Self-proclaimed ‘No. 1 populist’ headed to Rockies
Jim Hightower is no fan of President Bush and he fears the Democratic Party is in danger of losing its soul. So why is the man who bills himself as “America’s No. 1 Populist” optimistic about the country’s future?Because, he said, he senses a great awakening among the people – one that will redefine how the country is run.”I’m the rarest of species – a progressive optimist,” he said.Hightower, a nationally syndicated columnist and radio commentator, is coming to the mountains this week to share his blunt political observations in a fund-raiser for KDNK public radio in Carbondale and at the State of the World Conference in Aspen this weekend.
From his headquarters in Austin, Texas, Hightower hinted at his message during a telephone interview. His latest book, “Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush,” won’t come out until after his appearances in the area, although his organization will take reservations. From the title, readers can imagine where Hightower is going.”It’s an unabashed, hard-hitting but fun book about where we are and what we can do about it,” said Hightower. After analyzing the performance of the Bush administration for the last four years “I’ve come to the conclusion that these people are nuts,” said Hightower. “These are ideologues and extremists.”Hightower said he sees himself as a spokesman for the rank-and-file Americans – those holding a couple of jobs and still trying to scrape by on low wages; those with inadequate or no medical insurance; those struggling to raise the funds to send their kids to college.He fears that his constituency is in danger of being abandoned by the Democratic Party – at its own peril. “If the Democratic Party doesn’t stand up for these people, they’re not going to stand up for the Democratic Party,” Hightower said.
Although he has been a lifelong Democrat, he said he doesn’t automatically throw his support “to any huckster who puts a ‘D’ on his chest.”In John Kerry, the party’s likely presidential candidate, he sees hope that his constituency will be served. “I think he’s doing a better job of it than we’ve seen in some time,” Hightower said.But he still sees problems, he said. Kerry wants to establish a minimum wage that Hightower complained is under the poverty line. And while Kerry wants to help more Americans by getting them health care insurance, he’s doing nothing to fix the corporate health care system that’s at the root of the problem.Despite the challenges, Hightower said now is a great time to be a populist – someone fighting for the rights of the people rather than the corporations and high-income earners.
First, he said, “insurgents” within the Democratic Party have helped define the debate and platform during the primary and caucus process.Second, third-party efforts are making at least a small impact on the national scene, most visible with the Green Party presidential candidacy of Ralph Nader four years ago.And third, more people are joining grassroots political and social campaigns that truly make a difference.”It takes a small group of people to be the agitators – to say what’s really happening,” Hightower said.