BILL MOYERS : How does the Tea Party differ from the people you’re talking about? We have two groups of Americans, both angry and defiant, and both calling themselves populists. What don’t they have in common?
JIM HIGHTOWER : Here’s what populism is not. It is not just an incoherent outburst of anger. And certainly it is not anger that is funded and organized by corporate front groups, as the initial Tea Party effort is, and as most of it is still today. Though there is legitimate anger within it, in terms of the people who are there. But what populism is at its essence is a, a just determined focus on helping people be able to get out of the iron grip of the corporate power that is overwhelming our economy, our environment, energy, the media, government. And I guess that’s one big difference between real populism and what the Tea Party thing is, is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of corporations. So you can’t say, let’s get rid of government. You need to be saying let’s take over government.
BILL MOYERS : Why don’t you call yourself a liberal?
JIM HIGHTOWER : The difference between a liberal and a progressive is that liberals want to assuage the problems that we have from corporate power. Populists want to get rid of corporate power. An example is what’s happening, right now, with the Wall Street reform that’s in Washington.
JIM HIGHTOWER : If you’re too big to fail, you’re too big period. And now they’ve [the corporations have] become not only too big to fail, but too big to care.
JIM HIGHTOWER : Yes, exactly. I go all the way back to Thomas Paine, of course. I mean, that was kind of the ultimate rebellion. And then when the media tool was a pamphlet. You know, a pamphleteer or a broadside that you put on the community bulletin board. So the whole American Revolution itself, but not the great men. They didn’t–they wrote the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. But that didn’t create democracy. It made democracy possible.
What created democracy was Thomas Paine and the Shays Rebellion the suffragists and the abolitionists and on down through the populists, the labor movement. Including the Wobblies. Tough in their face people. The–Mother Jones, Woody Guthrie, you know, the cultural aspect of it, as well. Of course, Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez. And now it’s down to us.
You know, the–these are agitators. They extended democracy decade after decade. You know, sometimes we get in the midst of these fights. We think we’re making no progress. But, you know, you look back. We’ve made a lot of progress. And you’ve seen it. And I have, as well. You know, that agitator after all is the center post in the washing machine that gets the dirt out. So, we need a lot more agitation.
BILL MOYERS : Ed Murrow told his generation of journalists bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. So here, one more time, is mine: plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy, the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word but it’s become an American phenomenon. Back in the fall of 2005, the Wall Street giant Citigroup even coined a variation on it, plutonomy, an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer with government on their side….
While millions of people have lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings, the plutonomists are doing just fine. In some cases, even better, thanks to our bailout of the big banks which meant record profits and record bonuses for Wall Street. Now why is this? Because over the past 30 years the plutocrats, or plutonomists — choose your poison — have used their vastly increased wealth to capture the flag and assure the government does their bidding.
Remember that Citigroup reference to “market-friendly governments” on their side? It hasn’t mattered which party has been in power — government has done Wall Street’s bidding. Don’t blame the lobbyists, by the way; they are simply the mules of politics, delivering the drug of choice to a political class addicted to cash — what polite circles call “campaign contributions” and Tony Soprano would call “protection.”
This marriage of money and politics has produced an America of gross inequality at the top and low social mobility at the bottom, with little but anxiety and dread in between, as middle class Americans feel the ground falling out from under their feet. According to a study from the Pew Research Center last month, nine out of ten Americans give our national economy a negative rating. Eight out of ten report difficulty finding jobs in their communities, and seven out of ten say they experienced job-related or financial problems over the past year. So it is that like those populists of that earlier era, millions of Americans have awakened to a sobering reality: they live in a plutocracy, where they are disposable. Then, the remedy was a popular insurgency that ignited the spark of democracy.
This is why America needs voices like those of Moyers’ front and center in the public discourse, and why his will be so sorely missed.