Jim Hightower talks the talk

The progressive pundit with a Texas flair brings his populist rhetoric to Tampa pre-RNC.

Since 1990, when he lost his bid for re-election as Texas Agriculture Commissioner to Rick Perry (yeah, that one), Jim Hightower has become a household brand in progressive circles.

For nearly 20 years he’s been producing daily two-minute radio commentaries heard in over 130 markets (including WMNF in Tampa). He also writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column, as well as “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter.

And he’s coming to Tampa for a fundraiser for WMNF 88.5 FM on Saturday night, August 18 at the Straz Center. CL caught up with him the day after 41-year-old Cuban-American and new Tea Party star Ted Cruz won the GOP Senate primary, pushing the U.S. Senate a little more to the right a few months before the general election.

Jim Hightower: There’s a national fight among Florida, Michigan, Colorado, Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin among the governors in those states and the Republican Tea Party types to determine which one can be the nuttiest of them all, and last night Texas won. Among other serious topics, Ted is very concerned that George Soros is leading a U.N. conspiracy to eliminate golf courses in America. That’s big on a lot of people’s minds, as you might imagine. On a more serious level, he wants to gut Social Security. He’s called it a Ponzi scheme, making the usual far right-wing wacko attacks on this extremely valuable retirement program that so many millions of Americans count on.

CL: Let me ask you about Texas, as Red a state as there is. There are some who say that because of the growing legal Latino population, within the next decade Texas could become a Blue state. Do you think that’s possible, and if so, how long might that take?

Not only possible, but we’re working very actively in that direction. And yes, the Latino vote is key to that, but just generally increasing the voter turnout of people who are naturally Democrats would make a huge difference. What’s happened here is not that people turn right wing. Rather, they quit voting. That’s because of my party. I’ve seen my national leaders taking money from those same corporations that the Republicans do. Same thing is going on here in [Texas].

About 20 years ago the Democratic Party — led by a strain of geniuses — decided the key to winning elections was to raise money from those corporate interests and put that money into TV ads. That hasn’t worked out, and the reason for that is when you take that corporate check, written on the back of it is the corporate agenda, and so our party quit talking about good jobs at good wages, quit talking about health care for everybody, quit talking having the nation’s top-rated public education programs, the things that ordinary people care about, we quit talking about.

So what we’ve got to do is have the candidates who are willing to talk the talk of grassroots populism that brings people out, because they hear themselves in the message, and we have not been doing that.

We’ve got the RNC coming up. What do you think about the fact that $50 million in taxpayer funding goes to provide security for them?

They’re just showboating events… I think conventions should be a day and a night, or a day and two nights and let’s move on with it. But what it’s become even more significantly is an opportunity for local authorities — along with national authorities — to shut down the very idea of American democracy, which is the First Amendment, the right of people to assemble and speak out against policies with which they don’t agree. You’ve got some 4,000 riot-geared police in Tampa, and they’re coming in there to crack down on the hallowed freedoms of public assembly and free speech, really establishing an un-American police state for a week, right there in your city, at the behest of RNC officials.

But this really isn’t a partisan issue because Democrats are going to do essentially the same thing. Maybe a little less so, at least they’ll pay more lip service to those in protest; what they do is they restrict the parade routes to prevent the protesters getting anywhere near the convention doors or the media. They create these little protest pens, they just allow a few people at a time to even be in them, and again located far away from the convention center, so you have the right to protest but you don’t have the right for that protest to be heard by anyone of significance, and that is not the American way. That is not what Madison and Jefferson meant when they wrote that First Amendment.

Lots of folks seem to be not that turned on by the presidential choices this year. Do you believe that at some point, third party candidates will become more viable?

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