Uplifting lowdown 

Although he describes the current scene in Washington as "a bit of a mess," Jim Hightower believes the Democrats will persevere in the November elections.

"It's not nearly as bad for the Democrats as the pundit class wants everyone to believe," Hightower says from his office in Austin, Texas. "Yes, a good number of Democratic members of the House and the Senate are in trouble, but they are fighting back."

Known as "America's most popular populist," Hightower will be here Friday, Sept. 17, for a free public talk titled, "The People Are Revolting (In the Best Sense of the Word)" at 4:45 p.m. in Colorado College's Cornerstone Arts Center. The 67-year-old syndicated columnist and best-selling author then will speak on "Labor in the Age of Obama" at an Indy-sponsored labor-leader awards dinner.

Hightower says he's not sure how he'd grade the president so far.

"He's so powerful at framing an issue, and he's done so many good things, mostly behind the scenes that don't get much publicity," Hightower says. "But at the same time, with health care, the Wall Street bailouts and the war machine controlling policy in Afghanistan, he's caved in from the start to the corporate viewpoint and has done way less than he could have on those issues.

"He's been too willing to court Republican votes in Congress. Despite getting stiffed again and again, he keeps playing the game of bipartisanship that the Republicans push."

Hightower says he has been impressed by Obama's appointments at the Cabinet and regional levels in the Environmental Protection Agency, and progress made to protect the environment. He also likes administration changes in labor rules for union election processes.

But the Obama administration and Congress have failed over the past two years to "make clear to ordinary working people that the Dems are on their side," he says. For examples, Hightower points to executives of bailed-out companies being allowed to continue giving themselves bonuses, while working-class employees received pink slips.

"They tell us unemployment is only 9.6 percent," he says, "but 55 percent of the American people have directly suffered from the job crisis in our country, by either being unemployed in the last two years or having their wages or hours reduced or being forced to take part-time jobs instead of full-time. ...

"Quarterly profits are up, Wall Street banksters are paying themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses, the Dow Jones average has been doing OK — which is leading media to report that the economy is whizzing. It's actually whizzing on you and me, the workers. The normal used to be if you got laid off, you'd get laid back on after companies recovered. The new normal is permanent economic instability for the working class, which is 75 percent of us."

To retain congressional power, Democrats need to "come out whaling," Hightower says and candidates such as U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., should send a message that they're fighting for the middle class.

"The point at which the Democrats take a strong stand for the kind of jobs program we need will go a long way toward keeping them in Washington," Hightower says. "The loss of the House is not as assured as some want us to believe."



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