|by Greg Kuchmek
"If Will Rogers and Mother Jones had a baby, Hightower would be that rambunctious child, mad-as-hell...with a sense of humor. He speaks truth with a Texas twang. What next? Turn him on. Turn him loose. Sweet Jesus, this is gonna be good!"
Molly Ivins, syndicated columnist
"The true spectrum in American politics is not from right to left, it's top to bottom." Jim Hightower extols the American Voter to "follow the money" because the people in Washington are not always the ones pulling the strings. He sees Big Business as the not-so-shadowy puppeteer making the Washington folk wave their arms and do the political dance. Hightower is a "progressive" populist political commentator from Austin, Texas, and was heard daily on over 150 radio stations across the country from the early 1990s until 1995. After a year long exile (as of this past Labor Day), he's back on the air. His clear and forceful vision presents an alternative to the excesses of Washington and the shenanigans of the right wing commentators. In this crazed election year, it's good to know that Jim is back, fighting for our rights in this increasingly unstable America during the last days of the twentieth century.
Before taking his politics to radio, Hightower was active in a variety of political spheres. He began working as a legislative aide in the late 1960s to Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough, a liberal/populist stalwart. An activist throughout the 1970s, it wasn't until 1982 when he was elected state Agriculture Commissioner of Texas, and then re-elected in 1986, when he got a taste of politics from the inside. As Commissioner, he was able to fight for the kinds of policy and regulatory initiatives on behalf of family farmers and consumers he had long advocated.
American populism began in the Texas of the late 19th century as a response to the growing evils of capitalism. The populists come in all shapes and sizes, left and right, but they all have a certain grasp of the concept that we need some kind of democratic control over capitalism. With no particular ideology, they learned by doing, they set up the first buying cooperatives, farmers cooperatives, marketing cooperatives, and ultimately, cooperative sources of capital. Populism is about everyday people sharing their problems and their ideas and solutions. It's what Jim Hightower is all about.
He was not, however, allowed to proceed with this message. Disney bought and merged Capital Cities and his employer the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). A million listeners across the country could not overcome Disney's distaste for Hightower's anti-Big Business agenda. Hightower was less than diplomatic himself, and in regards to his situation, saying that he now "works for a rodent." His fate was sealed by his attack of the cherished image of Old Walt himself for being both a union-buster and a admitted FBI informant during the sinister McCarthy era. On August 1, 1995, populist talk radio got pushed down by The Man; Hightower's radio show was canceled. The conservative "family oriented" company had Hightower's popular radio show off the air so fast he was not even allowed a farewell show to say goodbye and thank his supporters.
Although Disney has turned his old workplace into "top-40 radio news," and the alternative news talk radio is dominated by right-wingers, Jim Hightower is slowly making a comeback. He currently can be heard on over 75 radio stations across the countrywith his daily two-minute commentaries. He has also just launched a new two-hour radio show on the Universal Broadcasting Network, a brand new network based in Florida. This new show features the usual political discussion as well as local music in a more chatty "lunch theme" broadcast live from a popular restaurant in Austin, Texas. As the only progressive populist voice in American radio today, Jim "Political Sparkplug" Hightower has to forge a path for his vision in a space already owned by the right wing. As Hightower counters the gross non sequitors of Rush Limbaugh, presents a broader vision than G. Gordon Liddy and uses pithy logic to squelch the sensationalistic assertions of a host of other aspiring shock jocks, a growing number of listeners are beginning to believe he holds some of the answers for them. Passionate, committed, and usually sensible, he shows that if you feel cheated, overlooked and disgusted by the American political and economic system, you don't have only the right wing route to go. While other liberal radio programs, like NPR, tend to favor longer and more complex analysis, and often seem directed solely to the academic sector, Hightower's populist vision serves a much broader base.
The voice of the working person is now beginning to be heard again. Hightower is launching his populist attack in this critical election year in a variety of ways beyond his radio shows. He has gone on a number of speaking tours and is writing a book, There Is Nothing In The Middle Of The Road But Yellow Stripes And Dead Armadillos, which is due out next Spring. Will he be silenced once again by the corporate strong-arm of The Man? With Jim Hightower's new format, it seems that he just might be able to slip his message past the all-seeing eye of Big Brother Business and right into the home of the average working citizen.
Hear John Hightower!