Burning Bush

An Interview With Jim Hightower

Steven Robert Allen
7 min read
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George W. Bush should buy himself a black John B. Stetson hat, some second-hand chaps and a pair of silver spurs. Then he'd look like a real cowboy, not just some prep school wannabe with a phony drawl. In that get-up, he could face another famous Texan, the left-wing rabble-rouser, Jim Hightower, a man famous for his gleaming white Stetson, on a dusty drag at high noon, the evil Republican villain versus the courageous Liberal hero, fighting a duel to the death over the biggest political issues of the day.

For Hightower's many fans, such a scene isn't all that far-fetched. Metaphorically speaking, that's pretty much what Hightower's doing this election year. He's just released a new book called Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush!, designed to make his readers howl with laughter, then head to the polls to rid the world of the scourge of rampant Bushism currently infecting our federal government.

This former two-term Texas Agriculture Commissioner has been raising Cain from the left hand side of the dial for decades, but Hightower's grass roots activism, columns, radio programs, books and speeches have also had plenty of cross-over appeal. His website describes him as America's No. 1 populist, and he's spent a long career in public life sticking up for the little guy in the face of corporate and government bullying.

Hightower is currently crisscrossing the nation on his Beat Bush Tour, a combo book tour and underground political campaign designed to organize the forces of reasonableness against the unabashed idiocy of the Bush administration and its Republican servants in Congress. He'll be in Albuquerque on Wednesday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. at El Rey Theater at a rally to promote Democratic candidate Richard Romero in his bid to unseat Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) come Election Day. (That's Nov. 2 for all you boneheads who aren't paying attention.)

How's the Beat Bush Tour going?

Couldn't be better. We've been having sell-out crowds everywhere we go, doing big rallies, fundraisers for community radio stations, that kind of thing. We're raising issues and a little bit of hope. In Portland last night, we filled an auditorium with 800 people. Even bookstore events have been going very well. In a Republican suburb of Minneapolis, the Barnes and Noble there had the biggest crowd they ever had for our event. In a bookstore in Santa Cruz, it was the same thing. It's been like that. And this isn't just because of my handsome face on a book jacket. It's because people really do want to take their country back from these nuts.

What did you think of the Democratic Convention?

I watched pieces of it, and I was actually there for Sunday and Monday, so I got a real sense of the spirit of the thing, which was all good. Everyone thinks we'll win this thing. People are cautiously optimistic, of course, because they know the Bush campaign is going to pull some dirty tricks. The Homeland Security czar already asked if they have authority to suspend the elections. Then there were these most recent so-called terrorist alerts—turns out it was based on information that was three or four years old.

Do you think that was a political ploy?

Yeah, actually, I do. These people have zero credibility. They had no information that there would be an imminent attack. From Florida on, the Bushites have shown they're capable of anything.

What do you think of Kerry?

Well, he's not going to be any kind of progressive giant, of course, but that's really not his role. I've got a two-step goal this election year. Number one, get rid of the Bush administration. As I say in my book, these people are nuts. They're implementing policies that are completely outside the American mainstream, often without hardly any congressional oversight or media coverage. The extent of the damage is already enormous. They're attempting to implement Orwellian, Ayn Randian, Dr. Strangelovian policies that would supplant our American democracy. They're attempting to change the fundamentals of our form of government. We've got to stand back and see the big picture, connect the dots. …

Then part two is we've got to realize that getting Kerry elected is not going to be a progressive victory. Getting him elected is essential, but it's only going to bring us back to ground level, so we can put a progressive agenda on the table again. We should be right in the face of Kerry and Edwards from day one. We shouldn't give them a honeymoon, not one day. We need to make them as progressive as we can make them while at the same time understanding, of course, that that isn't naturally who they are. That makes Nov. 3 as important as Nov. 2. We can't just kick back in the Lazy Boy doing 12-ounce elbow curls.

Despite being a life-long Democrat, you endorsed Ralph Nader in 2000. What do you think of him now?

It was the right thing to do back then. It never occurred to any of us, including Ralph, that Gore would run such an inept campaign as to lose to Bush. Of course, Gore didn't lose, by the way. A lot changes in four years time, though. It's essential that we defeat Bush this time around.

Do you think Nader should drop out?

Nader has a right to run. He raises issues that no one else will. He makes statements more strongly than others can or will. I'm not into bashing Ralph.

A lot of people blame him for Bush getting into office in 2000. Do you think he could have the same effect on this election?

No, I don't. He's not going to be anywhere near the force he was last time. There's such an increase in enthusiasm in the country that will translate into a big turnout on Nov. 2. Kerry will win. We could even get back the Senate.

With all the left-wing books on the shelves this election season are you worried your latest title might get lost in the stacks? Is it overkill?

It's a long way from overkill. There will be tons of more books from the Bushites and against them. My book has a couple things going for it. It's the kind of book you could take to the beach with you. It's filled with information you can use to argue with Bush supporters, but it's also got puzzles and cartoons at the end of every section. You can fight the gods and still have fun, and this book represents that. You can use it for political battles, but also enjoy it.

You've been described, and you describe yourself, as America's No. 1 populist. What does the term “populist” mean to you?

There's a strong political history going back to the national populist movement of the 1870s, 1880s, 1890s. Basically, it's an expression of grassroots democracy, the belief that democracy and the people are served best when power is decentralized as much as possible, not only political power but economic power. Right-wingers often describe themselves as populists, but they're not about to take on corporate power. If you're not battling the corporate bastards, you're not a populist. It's as simple as that.

Jim Hightower will appear at El Rey Theater (620 Central SW) on Wednesday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. at a rally with Richard Romero. For details on this rally, call Bookworks at 344-8139. Those willing to pony up $100 can lounge and socialize with Hightower and Romero at a special reception next door at the Golden West from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The $100 contribution includes the price of Hightower's latest book, Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush!, with all proceeds benefiting Romero's campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives against the current Republican incumbent, Heather Wilson. To RSVP for the reception, call 244-0969.

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