— Ecclesiasticus, Apocrypha, 44:1
Jim Hightower is one of the unsung heroes in America.
Many shabby politicians call themselves populist. The fraud is perpetrated by the media which misuse and abuse the term.
Hightower is one of the precious few true populists in America.
He battles for the common folks against the dominance of money, corporations and greed in this woefully capitalistic nation. He fights for social and economic justice.
He has published the monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, for 14 years. Every genuine populist is grateful.
The four-page newsletter is small but packs a wallop. The March issue is typical.
Its headline: “The Post Office is not broke and it hasn’t taken any of our tax money since 1971.” Its secondary headline: “Answering the lies that privatization zealots and FedEx are peddling.”
Hightower calls the 45-cent first-class stamp what it is: the best bargain in America. For 45 cents you can’t buy “a cuppa joe, a pack of gum or a newspaper.”
He also calls he U.S. Postal Service what it is: “a civic treasure, a public good that links all people and communities into one nation.”
“Six days a week letter carriers traverse four million miles toting an average of 583 million pieces of mail. From the gated enclaves and penthouses of the über-wealthy to the inner-city ghettos, rural areas and the poorest families, the USPS literally delivers.”
Hightower adds: “Now the gloomsayers declare that the USPS is bogged down with too many overpaid workers, is unprofitable, costs billions in losses annually and is plummeting irreversibly into bankruptcy.”
Simply untrue. As he asks: “Has the Pentagon ever made a profit? The State Department?” Hightower rightly says “producing a profit is not the business of government.”
“Yet the laissez-fairyland blogosphere, corporate front groups, a howling pack of congressional right-wingers and media flacks are crying doom.”
They too are wrong.
Hightower points out that since 1971 “the postal service has not taken a dime from taxpayers. All of its operations performed at 32,000 local post offices are paid for by selling stamps and mailing letters and packages.”
The real problem, Hightower notes, is the privateers who want to turn the post office into a rampant capitalistic enterprise.
“While it is certainly true that emails and tweets are faster than ‘snail’ mail, there remains a vast demand for postal services where hard copy and physical delivery are essential,” Hightower writes.
Moreover, “ordinary folks feel personally attached to their post offices, their clerks and their mail carriers.”
“The post office is an important community center. The corporatizer crowd doesn’t realize that it is messing with the human connection and affection that USPS engenders.”
Other Hightower populist battles:
• “29 West Virginia coal miners died when methane was allowed to accumulate in the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. They are dead because self-serving profiteers in the coal industry have used their enormous political clout to fend off common sense safety regulations.”
• “The Roberts Court has thoroughly politicized the majority of justices. It has been chopping furiously at legal rights of workers, consumers and voters. Its abuse of political power is spectacular. Yet the court deliberately hides itself, refusing to allow cameras in its courtroom.”
• “In Bush v. Gore (2000) the justices imperiously interrupted a count of the people’s vote in Florida, usurped jurisdiction from state courts, invented a legal theory out of thin air and arbitrarily seated corporate favorite G.W. Bush in the White House.”
• The Silicon Valley barons of greed get richer than rich by hiring an offshore work force that puts in too long weeks and gets too low pay.
• President Obama rightly denounces unlimited money in politics as a “threat to democracy” but, sadly, did a volte-face to create his own Super PAC.
Despite slashing attacks, the Hightower newsletter and his radio commentaries are full of Texas chortles and humor.
But it is his advocacy of progressive politics, his unyielding embrace of the extinct People’s Party principles of the 1890s that make him adored on the Left.
As The Nation put it: “His critiques of the corporate-sponsored tea party movement and its media allies challenge the vapid notion that just because people hold a rally they are populists.”
As Hightower says: “The very essence of populism is its unrelenting focus on breaking the iron grip that corporations have on the government, the economy, the media and the environment.”
The People’s Party died because it was too radical for this deeply conservative and profoundly capitalistic nation. Hightower is keeping its spirit alive.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.