Jim Hightower on Taking
Back the Country Through Democratic Struggle
Jim Hightower argues that the U.S. is ruled by “thieves of
justice and liberty,” and it is time for the people to take
back their nation.
“The kleptocrats have taken over.” That is how Jim
Hightower starts the introduction to latest book, Thieves
In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country and It’s Time
to Take it Back. In it, he argues that the U.S. is ruled
by “thieves of justice and liberty,” and it is time for
the people to take back their nation.
Hightower, who describes himself as America’s #1
“To jettison our nation's ideals for nothing more than
the further enrichment of elites is no mere shift in policy --
it's a moral failure, a betrayal of what the American
experiment represents. A fellow came up to me recently and
politely introduced himself. After only a moment of chitchat,
he clutched my arm and his eyes urgently sought mine, as
though he might find confirmation there of what he
instinctively thought to be happening. Leaning into me, almost
in a whisper he said: "They're changing America, aren't
Hightower says and dedicates much of his book to offering a
national vision to take back the country through democratic
struggle, organization and agitation.
He is a national radio commentator, columnist and author of
several books on democracy and the government.
He spoke yesterday at St. Peters church at an even hosted
by True Majority. In his speech he said, “They are changing
America in a way that we won’t recognize and in a way that
we do not support and have not been consulted on - they are
changing our America of egalitarianism into their America of
elitism and empire.”
- Jim Hightower, speaking at St. Peters church on
August 18th, 2003 at an event hosted by True
Hightower, national radio commentator,
columnist and author of several books on democracy and the
government. His latest book is Thieves In High Places:
They’ve Stolen Our Country and It’s Time to Take it
AMY GOODMAN:Coming up later in the program we'll hear
more about the Reuters journalist who was gunned down by U.S.
troops outside the Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq. U.S. troops said
that they had engaged him.
But now, “the kleptocrats have taken over.” That’s
how Jim Hightower starts the introduction to his latest book,
Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country and It's
Time To Take It Back.
Jim Hightower is one of the country's leading populist,
former agriculture commissioner in Texas, national radio
commentator, columnist, author of a number of books on
democracy, government and greed.
Last night he addressed hundreds in New York at an event
sponsored by the True Majority.
This is some of what he had to say.
JIM HIGHTOWER:I'm taken off a thirty day--thirty
city rather, eight week book tour, barn storming tour of
America here tonight but really more than that because this is
the kind of event that I want to do with my book, not just
sign a few books and get a review in the local paper but
rather to try to use this book to develop the activism out
there and to give people some hope and inspiration and to help
raise money for our society, to help rally, to help organize
as we go along.
Of course my book, I don't know if you've seen it yet but
it features me in red underwear on the cover. This is a
subliminal appeal to the sex market in our country. And it's
rather appropriate because it has me wearing--by the way I
stood in front of the Texas state capitol for two-and-a-half
hours in March while this guy shot pictures of me. A lobbyist
came by said, “Hightower, I'm not even going to ask.”
There I was in red long johns for two and a half hours.
But it’s kind of appropriate, I mention a little story in
the book about a Japanese minister of the economy who a couple
of years ago was discovered by police to have four-hundred
items of women's underwear in his home in his apartment. But
he assured the public that there was nothing askance here,
nothing to worry about because he said “I picked up all
lingerie on the streets by pure chance.”
It’s better than some of the stories Bush and Carl rove
have been telling, I think.
We do still have our underwear in America, but we've been
stripped of a more delicate and more precious garment and
that's our democracy. Piece by piece are people's power to
control our environmental, political, economic destinies,
being filched by a confederacy of corporate kleptocrats, the
Enron-ers and World Com-ers, the downsizers and globalizers,
the speculators and spoilers, the big shots and the bastards,
the Bushites who are running roughshod over the people of this
country and now of the world. Their kleptocracy is now fronted
by an over privileged snotty and bratty son of a bush.
And indeed we gather here tonight in open defiance of King
George the W. and his autocratic, plutocratic, and
Lilly Tomlin has said that she fears that the manhood
invented news act might be thinking of inventing something
else. That is one of my fears as well, but it doesn't rank all
that high on my scare-o-meter. I fear that they might find
that cancer is caused by beer, for example. That would be a
hell of a devil's dilemma for me. Or maybe they're right,
maybe the “Hokey-Pokey” is what it's all about. What do we
But the thing that scares me the most is one word,
In two short years these people have looted our public
treasury to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars to their
wealthiest backers. They have defoliated our environmental
protections. They have launched a class war on the middle
class as well as the poor. Taken have taken a sledgehammer to
our civil rights and our liberties. They’ve sought to
castrate labor unions. They’ve turned a $5 trillion surplus
into a $4 trillion deficit. They’ve attempted to privatize
everything from Social Security to the post office and they
have also thrown us into a maniacal, messianic, testosterone
driven World War to make the world safe for Halliburton.
Imagine what they’d be doing if they actually won the
But if it's scary you want, you might look down a level
below Bush, Cheney and company, because they're not the worst
of the lot. There's howling Paul Wolfowitz for example. John
Dr. Strangelove Poindexter and his little toys that he’s
been giving us out of the Pentagon. And then there are hatchet
men in Congress, people like Tom--the exterminator—DeLay. I
don't know if you know Tom DeLay very much, but you need to
get to know this fellow. You know Newt Gingrich. DeLay is Newt
on Viagra. Think about that image for a while.
But it's also not just the individuals among the Bushites
but their ethic of privilege and plutocracy. An example of
that is the airline bail out after September 11th. $15 billion
of our money provided to the airlines. Well, they were pretty
hard hit. Maybe they needed the money.
But two amendments were attached to that legislation that
we didn't hear about. One said that the C.E.O.'s of the
airlines would make no sacrifice. They did not have to give up
a penny of their salaries and special compensation and they're
stock options and et cetera.
The other amendment was even more insidious. It said that
not a penny of the $15 billion would go to any of the 140,000
workers who were fired by those C.E.O.'s after September 11th.
And when it was suggested on the floor of the Congress
that--wait a minute--we ought to at least include a little
unemployment compensation for those 140,000 workers, Dick
Armey, then the majority leader of the House of
Representatives, got up on his hind legs and stumbled toward
the microphone and he said, “That would not, I believe, be
commensurate with the American spirit.” Revealing the whole
attitude of privilege and plutocracy. I look at a guy like
Armey and I think, “100,000 sperm and you were the
Let's be blunt. These people are nuts.
Unfortunately they're in power and they're also dangerous.
Voltaire said, “It's dangerous to be right on matters in
which the established authorities are wrong.” These people
are wrong not merely on policies and budgets but on philosophy
because they're abandoning the core values of America, the
notions that we hold within our guts and that hold us
together. Economic fairness, people believe in that. Social
justice, that's in our hearts not always acted on but it's
there. Equal opportunity for all people, that's a part of what
America is. That's being set aside. I saw a bumper sticker in
my in town of Austin, Texas on an old pick up that said,
“Where are we going and what am I doing in this hand
People have a sense that something has gone terribly wrong
and what is wrong is this: It's not just a matter of the tax
give away there and the regulatory manipulation over here,
they're abandoning the essential notion of the common good;
the idea that we're all in this together. That's what holds
our society together. We are a very diverse population of
people. We are a brawling people, as well. We are a people, as
Bill says, who knows how to use guns. We are a people that
they are stomping on.
A guy came up to me at an event not long ago, not a
political event; I was just wandering around at an art show,
actually. I was in this art show looking around he came up to
me and recognized me and we had a little chit-chat briefly and
then he grasped my arm with his hand and he looked at me
directly in the eye as though he was seeking confirmation of
something that he feared and he said to me, “They're
changing America, aren't they?”
And that's right. They're changing America in a way that we
won't recognize and in a way that we do not support and have
not been consulted on. They're changing our America of
egalitarianism into their America of elititism and empire. The
empire impulse in this administration is more powerful than
anything I would guess since the Spanish Civil War.
I think of--well I saw yesterday on the plane coming up
here a comic strip in the funny pages, I'm a veteran reader of
the funny pages, some of the very best material is from there.
There was a cartoon character who said he was “very
concerned for George W. as a George W. supporter,” he said,
“I've been doing some calculations. There are 165 nations in
the world and he's only invaded two of them so far!”
And the character said, “Even if he went to second term
that's still only sixty-five months in office so he's going to
need to bomb three nations a month from here on out just to
Concerned that maybe George had to get going, now that
would be funny except, well, you know Bush himself said after
September 11th when they were developing their war on
terrorism, that they had 60 countries on their list of
So many countries, so little time.
Empire tends to bloat one's ego. Bush said to the National
Security Council last year, “I do not need to explain why I
say things. That's the interesting thing about being
president. I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”
Why wasn't that on the evening news?
Wouldn't you like to buy him for what he's worth and sell
him for what he thinks he's worth? There's a market.
AMY GOODMAN:Jim Hightower, author of Thieves In High
Places. We'll come back to him here in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to Jim Hightower, author of
Thieves In High Places: They Have Stolen Our Country and it's
Time To Take It Back.
JIM HIGHTOWER:Empire of course is also expensive. $4
trillion for the Pentagon in the next ten years based on their
current annual budget. True Majority does such great work
along with business leaders and others for sensible priorities
in our country. As $4 trillion just to have the war machine
idling, it doesn't pay for putting it in gear. Wars are extra.
We're doing $4 billion a month in Iraq and a billion a month
in Afghanistan, right now. $4 trillion. How much is a
trillion? I mean these numbers get so insane.
Got a little thing in the book here that I parsed it out in
terms of seconds. Think of seconds. Western civilization has
not been around for a trillion seconds. In fact a trillion
seconds is 31,688 years. One trillion seconds ago, no humans
walked on this earth. Yet we're allocated $4 trillion to pay
for the super duper empire of King George the W.
Lee’s here, he'll appreciate this story, he probably
knows it, about Richie Ashburn, hall of famer out of the
Philadelphia Phillies. Ashburn was a hell of a hitter and one
ball game in Philadelphia he had a screaming foul ball, line
drive smack in the face of a woman, broke her nose. The game
had to be stopped awhile. They loaded her on the stretcher.
Then as they were hauling her out, the game resumed, the
pitcher wound up, hurled in there, and Ashburn hit another
screaming foul ball and it hit the woman on the leg as she was
being hauled out of the stadium.
That's the way I feel sometimes, that hapless lady
bombarded by the Pentagon budget that just keeps pounding us
and pounding us and pounding us.
Well, they're pushing a new ethic of empire and elitism. I
got a section in this book called "Never Have So Few Done
So Much For So Few.”
George W. Bush had a fundraiser here in New York City
during the 2000 election. This was his attempt to make a
little joke. He was looking out over a sea of tuxedos and
designer gowns, thousand-dollar-a-plate event, and he said,
“This is an impressive crowd. The have and have mores. Some
call you the elite. I call you my base.” Another one that
didn't make the television sets. As Amy Goodman is telling us
again and again and again: the propaganda machine.
Well, he's true blue to that base. We know about it in
terms of tax giveaways to the wealthiest. We know about in
terms of the military budget. We hear about these things but
also, it’s taking place in terms of the regulatory wrenching
to rig the rules on behalf of corporate interests over the
rest of us. Eight words you never want to hear, “The White
House today issued revised rules for….” Doesn't matter for
what you know it's going to be just something awful. And they
have used executive power to completely redo the regulatory,
really undo, unregulate corporations in this country. It's so
overwhelming sometimes you can't get a hold of it.
You know they say that in sex, using a feather is erotic
but using the whole chicken, that's kinky. I think some of you
have done that. Well, they're using the whole chicken. I
pulled out to help readers get a hold of this. Well you could
say that it’s a certain number of regulatory reforms, or
this or that, but those numbers don't mean anything. So what I
did was to take two years worth of March of 2001 to March of
2003, two years worth of Bush regulatory changes on
environmental issues alone. And here they are. I did them in
tiny print so they would not just ruin everybody, just going
on and on and on, page after page after page after page of
fine print in this little book to get a sense of the awesome
power that they are using.
Now, some or our side says, “Well, Bush is stupid.”
Well, all right. He doesn't have the brain muscle for any
heavy lifting. We know that. That misses the point because
that's not who Bush even thinks he is. Bush is the affable
front man for the thievery. That's his role. That's been his
role his entire life.
In his oil days he didn't run the company. He was the
rainmaker. He brought the investors. He had the family name
and the affable quality that allowed him to raise the money.
With the Texas rangers, he was named the general manager, but
he didn't manage anything. Though it was under his tenure that
they traded Sammy Sosa to the Chicago cubs. But he was the guy
out front slapping the visiting players on the butt and being
a hail fellow well met and doing the TV interviews, all that
showing off his hand-tooled red, white and blue Texas ranger
boots that he had and just being the front guy. Same thing as
the governor of Texas. And now that's what he is as president.
That's his role. Because he can hide the thievery behind that
of affability he's been able to just up to until recently.
Think if Dick Cheney was president. That wouldn't work.
Cheney has a smile like a landlord who just evicted another
widow. So that's Bush's role.
George said not long ago, “You can fool some of the
people all of the time. Those are the ones you should
Now you're going to get an experience of this coming up.
They're masters of propaganda, mass distraction, wag the dog,
old fashioned unvarnished, unabashed lying as well. And here
they come to New York City next year, right? In September.
They're going to use 9-11, the World Trade Center, New York
City, like they used that aircraft carrier that Bush flew into
in his "top gun" outfit.
Did you see they made a doll of that? A little action
figure. There’s a George W. Bush action figure you can pay
$39.99 and you, too, can own a one-foot tall action figure of
plastic--made in China—George W. dressed up in that little
top gun outfit. I thought it was kind of appropriate,
actually, that they portray him for what he is, a toy soldier.
That sort of works. And I certainly look forward to the bobble
head doll. We'd all buy one of those.
Well, enough of that. That's the bad news.
Here is some good news. The people of America are revolting
in the very best sense of that term.
I'm lucky in that I get to travel a lot and into the
grassroots area. That real America that Bill was talking about
and that Amy broadcasts day in and day out, our voice of
democracy, Amy Goodman. So I don't have to get my perception
of what America is from the nightly news or the New York
Times. And as I go around just about every place that's got a
zip code has somebody or some group of somebody that is
organizing, agitating, and addling these thieves in high
places. And more often than not they're winning. They're
lighting little prairie fires of rebellion all across our
land. It doesn't make the establishment news. But this is the
exciting story of the true America.
Wal-Mart wars. Wal-Mart is a beast of a corporation, “The
Beast of Bentonville” it's known as, now the world's largest
corporation. It surpassed Exxon and General Motors couple of
years ago. It is the most powerful depressing force on wages
in this country and in the world. Their associates, as they
call their employees, make an average of $15,000 a year.
That's if they work full time. Wal-Mart describes full time as
28 hours a week. They don't get healthcare. They have no
retirement benefits. They discriminate against women. 78% of
their employees are women but only a handful are managers. The
glass ceiling, once you hit it, you got to Windex it. You know
what I'm talking about. And they barge into our communities
without so much as a howdy-do much less a pretty please. They
come in cutting deals behind closed doors with the local
officials and with the developers and then suddenly it’s
announced you're going to have a super center here in your
town. Well the neighborhoods going to suddenly be barraged. A
super center is four football fields under one roof. Plus the
parking lot. Twenty-four hours of those nice amenities of the
Day-Glo lights that they have out at night. They squeeze out
the independent businesses in local communities using their
monopolistic pricing power to force businesses. Of the jobs
that they create they destroy three good jobs in the town.
So people are catching on to this, Republicans as well as
Democrats and Greens and people of none of the above. Folks
are getting on to this. Who elected Wal-Mart to come remake
our town? Well, nobody. The town doesn't belong to Wal-Mart.
We're the sovereigns. We're the people. We get to decide this.
Again an untold media story is that in town after town after
town across this country, people are defeating Wal-Mart. I was
in Arizona last year. In the last three years ten Wal-Marts
were defeated in the state of Arizona.
Eliminating sweatshop products from our campuses and from
our towns and from our states. People are doing that. Students
Against Sweat Shops. Ben and Jerry have done a great job with
a company called Sweat X Team X out in California, a fabulous
model for us. I write about that in this book as well. These
stories are all in the book because I want people to know that
you are not alone. You can do something. People are doing
something. And all of these people say, “Yes, have people
call us, or send us the e-mails and we will work with them.”
Well, works of the people have to forge this rebellion
themselves as we've always had to throughout the country.
Living wage campaigns, public financing of elections. Four
states have that now and North Carolina just passed it earlier
this year for their judicial elections. New Mexico passed it
about in June I think for their public utility elections. This
change taking place, fundamental change taking place, privacy
battles. This is our hope, this is our strength, this is our
basis for taking our country back from those thieves in high
And I've got even a little bit better news for you if
you're able to believe it.
Here is my political prediction. W. is a one-term
I know that the cognoscenti say, “Hightower, you are
dumber than a dust bunny. You are clueless. Bush is popular.
He's a war president. He's bulletproof.”
Well, no, he's not. His policies are absolutely loopy. And
his political base is small and shrinking.
The cognoscenti say, “Well what are you talking about,
Hightower? He won a mandate in 2002 in those congressional
No, he didn't.
“Yes, he got a slim majority in both houses of the
But he did not win the will of the people because what they
don't tell us is that only 33% of the American people voted in
those congressional elections. Bush is actually the choice of
17% of the eligible voters in America. That's his mandate. Not
exactly a political juggernaut. That's all the votes he's
going to get. That's the peak. 2000 was his peak and remember
he didn't win then. But those are the votes and that's the
most he can expect.
Not only does the emperor have no clothes but he’s
buck-naked and butt ugly and people are beginning to see it
now. This time some of his own party is appalled by him.
Daddy--I quoted some former republican presidents leading up
to Bush in this book and I quoted his daddy George--daddy
George said, “I'm a conservative but I'm not a nut about
it.” There's the difference.
I was in Maine a couple of weeks ago. Up there I met a lot
of republicans who don't like what he's done on environmental
issues, don't like what he's done to gays and lesbians, what
he’s done to women, what he's done to labor unions.
So there are forces within his own party that he's not
going to have this next time.
But especially significant is the fact that the pollsters
don't measure. That's the upchuck factor, the intensity of
opposition that he has generated among those constituencies
that he's been stiffing.
So I come to you tonight as that rarest of birds, a
progressive optimist in this age of bushwa. Bushwa is a word
you might want to look up in the dictionary. It means rubbishy
nonsense. It actually is a word. And the optimism I feel is
genuine for it comes from the grassroots where true America
lives. I think our joy is challenge. It is to unite with these
people, to rally them and organize with them and wallow in
their rebellious fun living spirit of our democracy. We're in
another of those, “When in the course of human events…”
moments that Jefferson wrote about a couple of hundred years
ago. And we can't just sit wearing buttons. My friend Fred
Harris said, “You can't have a mass movement without the
masses.” Pretty simple. The masses are ahead of us. It's not
easy to get them organized, kind of like loading frogs in a
wheelbarrow to get our side together. But it's the only way
that we have, only way that we have to build a genuine
politics and genuinely take power so we can realize our ideals
of fairness, justice and opportunity for all.
And I'll say one thing more to you and that is, this is all
so fun. This should be a joyous experience for us. This is a
wonderful time to be progressive and to be alive. Fighting for
democracy. In fact it’s just about as much fun as you can
have with your clothes on and there are some parts of the
country that that might be all right. And nothing is more fun
than winning. So I'm here to say to you, don't wring your
hands about Bush. Join hands and let's beat him, then, let's
keep joining hands to build a progressive movement that is
worthy of America. It's sitting out there in the countryside
right now. We have a historic opportunity; the question is
whether we will grab it, whether we will pick it up off the
There's a moving company in my town of Austin--I I'll leave
you with this thought--this moving company has an advertising
slogan that I've stolen and used over the years. They actually
have it in the Yellow Pages. They say, “If we can get it
loose we can move it.” That's what we're talking about. Get
it loose at the grassroots level and the people will move it
Thank you so much. Proud to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN:Jim Hightower, author of Thieves in High
Places: They Have Stolen Our Country and it’s Time To Take
It Back. We'll be back with him live in our studio in a
AMY GOODMAN:Here on Democracy Now! I am Amy Goodman,
joined by Jim Hightower. His latest book Thieves in High
Places: They Have Stolen Our Country and it’s Time To Take
It Back. Welcome, Jim.
JIM HIGHTOWER:Thank you so much, Amy, great to be
with you on this wonderful Democracy Now! program that helps
to take America back by spreading this voice all across the
country. Everywhere I go folks are tuned in.
AMY GOODMAN:Well, Jim--speaking of the media--in our
headlines as you were coming in this morning hearing that the
F.C.C. chair Michael Powell has now admitted, “Congress
should write the rules. There is a sentiment being expressed
by the American public, a concern about the media, a concern
about big media.” It looks like his two top aides are
resigning and there's been questions about whether he is, too.
JIM HIGHTOWER:It is a clear example of the guy who
got taken to the woodshed by we the people. This is a
tremendous victory. Unfortunately it is a negative victory. It
doesn’t mean we've taken our public airwaves back, but it is
very significant and it was done by the people and through
community radio, largely, and Internet opposition, but folks
through community radio. You know the establishment media,
which was pushing this Powell program, the establishment media
was not covering this.
It came from…
AMY GOODMAN: They were busy filing with the F.C.C.
supporting the deregulation.
JIM HIGHTOWER:Absolutely. To have that 400 to 20
vote in the House of Representatives was one of our better
days in a long time.
Amy Goodman: Then we have the Bush Administration demanding
the World Trade Organization force the European Union to lift
its ban on new genetically modified food.
JIM HIGHTOWER:Well, Lilly Tomlin said, “No matter
how cynical you get it's almost impossible to keep up.” This
is a clear example. We are saying to Europeans, “No, you
cannot decide what is in your food. Only corporations can
AMY GOODMAN: It sounds like Cancun is going to be
very interesting at the level of protest that is going to be
JIM HIGHTOWER:Yes, at the Seattle level, I think.
They're going to have a lot of uninvited guests who once again
are in the streets because we're not inside. And inside
they're doing such absurd things as dictating what people have
in their food. You know, the interesting part about that
appeal to the W.T.O. is that it's going to raise people's
consciousness in this country--say, wait a minute, what is in
our food. You're telling us that there's this altered organism
in our food, which again the media has not been reporting on,
the establishment side. So it's going to raise two things, I
think. The fact that corporations are doing that and secondly,
who the hell is the W.T.O. to make these decisions.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim, what is happening in your state? I
see that Tom DeLay says the state legislature in Texas has to
redistrict and is now going after the democrats who left for
Oklahoma, not wanting to vote on this.
JIM HIGHTOWER:Tom DeLay got up and had another big
old bowl of “Fruit Loops”, I think, swallowed a few too
many of them and decided that he didn't have enough to do in
Washington so he would begin to interfere with the state
legislature's responsibility to redistrict, which state
legislatures did in 2001. Now in Texas, the 2001 legislature
redistricting plan was blocked by the republicans, not by the
democrats but by the republicans. Then they threw it to a
bipartisan panel of judges and the judges did the
redistricting that now DeLay says has got to be redone. And
why does he say that? Because we’re not electing enough
republicans. Therefore we have to rig the system so it
automatically produces more republicans. He's talking about
six different congressional districts that have republican
majority but democrats are elected there. Well, go beat the
democrats. If you can't beat 'em, that's not the voter's
fault. That's your fault. You're not putting forth good enough
candidates. He wants to re-rig the system even tighter,
drawing these folks out of suburban areas so that rural areas
in the state would have no control over their own members of
Congress. They would be represented by somebody 250 miles away
in a Dallas suburb.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim, you are traveling through many
states of this country right now on a whirlwind tour. You're
JIM HIGHTOWER:We’re barn storming all over. I'm
off right now on a thirty-something city tour that is talking
about this message of thieves in high places and more
importantly of how we can take the country back. I'm bringing
a message of hope because the media establishment would
suggest to us, “Oh, well, it's a conservative country. You
people don't have a chance. So, don't even fight back.” Hog
wash and horse hockey. People are fighting back and winning
terrific victories all over this great country. So, I'm going
out and celebrating with these people and also to help raise
some money and do rallies and all of that.
So we can indeed take America back. We can do it.
AMY GOODMAN:Jim Hightower, thank you for being with
us. Former Agriculture Commissioner of Texas who now has
written a number of books, his latest, Thieves in High Places:
They Have Stolen Our Country and it’s Time To Take It Back.
You can find out more about him at Jimhightower.com and his
newsletter The Hightower Lowdown.
JIM HIGHTOWER:Thank you, Amy.