Iowa Public Television

 

Jim Hightower

posted on August 1, 2005

Borg: IN TODAY'S ENVIRONMENT OF SUPERHEATED POLITICAL DISCOURSE, TEXAN JIM HIGHTOWER MAKES HIS POINTS WITH WIT AND POPULIST HUMOR. HE'S OUR GUEST ON THIS EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS."

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM WAS PROVIDED BY "FRIENDS," THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE; AND BY CAPITOL RESOURCES, INC., LOCATED IN BROOKLYN, IOWA; AND BY NICOLE SCHLINGER AND ERIC LANGE INDIVIDUALLY, FUND-RAISING AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES FOR MAJOR CAMPAIGNS SINCE 1996.

ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION, THIS IS THE FRIDAY, JULY 29 EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS." HERE IS DEAN BORG.

Borg: JIM HIGHTOWER OF TEXAS HAS A NUMBER OF DESCRIPTORS DEFINING HIS POLITICAL STATURE: BEST SELLING AUTHOR, RADIO COMMENTATOR, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST, LECTURER, AND SPEAKER, TO NAME A FEW. JIM HIGHTOWER IS AN OUTSPOKEN CRITIC OF THE STATUS QUO AND SOMEWHAT OF A FOLK HERO TO THOSE WHO EMBRACE A PROGRESSIVE OUTLOOK IN SOCIAL AND POLITICAL MATTERS. MR. HIGHTOWER WAS TWICE SELECTED COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE IN HIS NATIVE TEXAS, BURNISHING HIS IMAGE AS A TELL-IT-LIKE-IT-IS POPULIST WHO CHAMPIONS THOSE WHO DON'T HAVE THE RESOURCES, MEANING MONEY, TO FLEX POLITICAL MUSCLE. MR. HIGHTOWER, WELCOME TO IOWA AND WELCOME TO "IOWA PRESS."

Hightower: THANK YOU VERY MUCH. MY PLEASURE. GLAD TO BE WITH YOU.

Borg: ACROSS THE TABLE: "DES MOINES REGISTER" POLITICAL COLUMNIST DAVID YEPSEN, AND "ASSOCIATE PRESS" SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER MIKE GLOVER.

Glover: MR. HIGHTOWER, YOU'RE IN THE STATE TO TALK TO A PROGRESSIVE GROUP ABOUT THEIR POLICIES. WHAT'S YOUR MESSAGE TO THEM?

Hightower: BASICALLY THAT IT'S OUR COUNTRY AND THAT WE NOT ONLY HAVE THE RIGHT TO TAKE IT BACK FROM THE THIEVES IN HIGH PLACES THAT I BELIEVE HAVE STOLEN IT, THE ENRON'ERS AND WORLDCOM'ERS, THE BIG SHOTS AND BASTARDS, BUT THAT IT'S OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO DO SO, AND THAT THERE'S A DEEP POOL AND WIDE POOL OF POLITICAL SUPPORT IN THE COUNTRYSIDE FOR THE KIND OF PROGRESSIVE POLICIES THAT GROUPS LIKE CCI ESPOUSE.

Glover: AND DO YOU SEE THIS MOVEMENT ON THE INCREASE? I MEAN THE RESULTS OF THE LAST COUPLE OF ELECTIONS WOULDN'T SEEM TO INDICATE YOUR MESSAGE IS GETTING THROUGH.

Hightower: WELL, ACTUALLY, YES. YOU KNOW, I COME WITH MIXED EMOTIONS ABOUT THAT LAST ELECTION. THEY SAY THAT MIXED EMOTION IS WHEN YOU SEE YOUR SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER COME HOME FROM THE PROM WITH A GIDEON BIBLE UNDER HER ARM. ON THE ONE HAND, KERRY LOST. AND THERE'S BUSH NOW WITH A VIAGRA-SIZED SMIRK ON HIS FACE, SAYING "I'VE GOT A MANDATE." BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, THE PEOPLE WHO WERE REALLY THE FORCE BEHIND THE KERRY CAMPAIGN, I DON'T MEAN THE KERRY STAFFERS OR THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE, BUT THE GRASSROOTS FOLKS WHO PUT THAT CAMPAIGN TOGETHER DID A PHENOMENAL JOB AND INCREASED TURNOUT REMARKABLY OF PROGRESSIVE FOLKS, ESPECIALLY AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE. WE HAD A 1/4-INCREASE IN TURNOUT OVER 2000 AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY IN THAT ELECTION. KERRY GOT MORE VOTES THAN ANY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN HISTORY EXCEPT FOR GEORGE W. BUSH. SO ON THE ONE HAND, KERRY LOST, BUT I DON'T THINK THAT THE PEOPLE LOST AT ALL. AND WHILE BUSH WON, HE CERTAINLY DIDN'T GET A MANDATE. HE GOT 31 PERCENT OF THE ELIGIBLE VOTE; KERRY GOT 29; 40 PERCENT DIDN'T VOTE. SO 31 PERCENT IS TO A MANDATE WHAT NEAR BEER IS TO BEER. AND SO THERE'S -- THAT POOL IS STILL OUT THERE, BUT IT'S GOT TO BE APPEALED TO WITH A MORE POPULIST CANDIDACY THAN WHAT KERRY OFFERED.

Yepsen: WELL, LET'S TALK MORE ABOUT THAT, MR. HIGHTOWER. THERE'S A BOOK OUT CALLED "WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS." IT'S A BOOK ABOUT HOW PEOPLE IN RURAL AMERICA AND POPULIST PEOPLE AREN'T VOTING FOR CANDIDATES WHO REPRESENT THEIR VALUES. SO HOW DO YOU MAKE THIS TRANSITION SO THAT RURAL PEOPLE ARE VOTING FOR LIBERALS, PROGRESSIVES, DEMOCRATS, WHATEVER TERM YOU WANT TO USE, INSTEAD OF GIVING REPUBLICANS LIKE PRESIDENT BUSH RECORD MARGINS AS THEY DID IN THIS LAST ELECTION?

Hightower: WELL, I THINK MR. FRANK WOULD AGREE WITH THIS ASSESSMENT, WHICH IS THAT THAT HAS BEEN AN ELECTION WITHOUT A CAMPAIGN. THEIR ECONOMIC POPULIST VALUES HAVE NOT BEEN APPEALED TO, FOR THE MOST PART, IN KANSAS OR IN MY STATE OF TEXAS OR ELSEWHERE AROUND THE COUNTRY. THEY HAVE BEEN VOTING ON THE BASIS OF THEIR CULTURAL POPULISM IN THIS LAST ELECTION, WHICH KARL ROVE DID A MASTERFUL JOB OF PLAYING THE GAY MARRIAGE ISSUE AND THAT SORT OF THING. BECAUSE JOHN KERRY WAS NOT TOUCHING THEM IN THE HEART AND IN THE GUT OR EVEN IN THE MIND WITH THE ISSUE OF: I'M ON YOUR SIDE; I'M GOING TO FIGHT THOSE -- THE CORPORATE POWERS; WE'RE GOING TO STOP THE OFFSHORING; WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A FAIR TAXATION POLICY THAT LOWERS YOUR PAYROLL TAXES, ET CETERA, RIGHT DOWN THE LINE; WE'RE GOING TO SEE THAT YOUR KIDS GO TO COLLEGE; THAT YOU'VE GOT HEALTH CARE, WHETHER YOU'VE GOT A JOB OR NOT, THOSE KINDS OF ISSUES THAT WOULD INSPIRE THOSE FOLKS WHO HAVE NATURAL ECONOMIC POPULIST INSTINCTS TO HEAR THE MESSAGE, TO SAY, "WELL, WAIT A MINUTE, THAT GUY IS NOW TALKING ABOUT ME."

Yepsen: WAS THAT AL GORE'S PROBLEM TOO FOUR YEARS EARLIER? I MEAN GEORGE W. BUSH CARRIED RURAL AMERICA IN 2000 AS WELL.

Hightower: WELL, NEITHER AL GORE NOR KERRY HAD A FARM PROGRAM THAT YOU COULD DISTINGUISH THAT WOULD APPEAL TO THE FAMILY FARMERS, THE PEOPLE WHO MIGHT RESPOND TO A MESSAGE LIKE THAT.

Borg: WHAT'S HOWARD DEAN HAVE TO DO AS DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CHAIR TO GET THE PARTY WHERE YOU THINK IT SHOULD BE?

Hightower: WELL, I THINK HE'S DOING WHAT'S GOT TO BE DONE. AND THAT'S NOT MOVE IT TO THE LEFT OR MOVE IT TO THE RIGHT, BUT MOVE IT OUT TO DES MOINES AND TOPEKA AND TYLER AND PLACES LIKE THAT. GET THE PARTY BACK TO THE GRASSROOTS. YOU KNOW, I'M AN OLD-TIME DEMOCRAT. I'VE BEEN ELECTED AS SUCH, MUCH TO THE AMUSEMENT OF THE PEOPLE OF TEXAS A COUPLE OF TIMES. AND I FIND THAT WHAT PEOPLE WANT IS FOR DEMOCRATS TO BE DEMOCRATS. AND I LOOK AT MY NATIONAL PARTY, AND IT'S BECOME A BANK. IT -- WE HAVE NO GRASSROOTS APPARATUS. WE HAVE NO GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATION. EVERY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN COMES ALONG, THEY COME HERE FIRST TO IOWA AND NEW HAMPSHIRE, AND THEY'VE GOT TO PUT A WHOLE ORGANIZATION TOGETHER BY THEMSELVES. THEY DON'T HAVE A LIST. THEY DON'T HAVE A NETWORK OF ACTIVISTS AND MONEY. THEY HAVE TO CREATE IT AND THEN CREATE THEIR OWN CAMPAIGN. WE NEED A GRASSROOTS BASE THAT IS THERE, NO MATTER WHO THE CANDIDATE IS.

Borg: YOU MENTIONED COMING FIRST TO IOWA. DO YOU THINK THAT'S A GOOD IDEA?

Hightower: I DO. I DO. I DISAGREE WITH THE "NEW YORK TIMES" AND OTHERS WHO SAID, OH, WELL, WHY SHOULD IOWA GET TO CHOOSE. WELL, WHY NOT IOWA? SHOULD IT BE NEW YORK CITY? SOMEBODY HAS GOT TO CHOOSE AND IT MIGHT AS WELL START HERE. YOU KNOW, I'VE SPENT A LOT OF TIME IN THIS STATE AMONG FARMERS AND AMONG LABORING FOLKS AND STUDENTS AND JUST REGULAR FOLKS HERE, AND I THINK IT'S AS GOOD A MICROCOSM AS ANYWHERE ELSE TO KICK IT OFF. AND I LIKE YOUR SYSTEM TOO, BY THE WAY, OF LETTING FOLKS JUST TURN OUT.

Glover: MR. HIGHTOWER, THERE'S A QUESTION THAT COULD BE ASKED THAT COULD BE LABELED, I SUPPOSE, WITHER THE DEMOCRATS. THE DEMOCRATS SEEM TO BE DOING ALL THEIR SQUABBLING AMONG THEMSELVES OVER WHAT THEIR MESSAGE OUGHT TO BE, OVER WHAT THEIR APPROACH OUGHT TO BE, OR WHETHER HOWARD DEAN IS THE RIGHT GUY OR THIS. GIVE ME A PRESCRIPTION FOR THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HEALING ITSELF?

Hightower: BEING DEMOCRATS, JUST BEING SQUARE ON VALUES. I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT -- THE PROBLEM WITH THE DEMOCRATS IS WE GET TOO OFTEN INTO THIS ISSUE AND THAT ISSUE AND WE SOUND LIKE WE'RE READING ISSUE PAPERS OR SOMETHING. RATHER THAN COMING OUT -- AND AS I SAID EARLIER, WE'RE ON YOUR SIDE. WE CARE ABOUT ECONOMIC FAIRNESS, SOCIAL JUSTICE, EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL PEOPLE. AND THOSE ARE THE VALUES THAT ARE GOING TO GUIDE US IN ANY POLICY THAT WE ESPOUSE. AND WE'RE GOING TO BE ON YOUR SIDE, EVEN IF THAT MEANS BEING AGAINST THE CORPORATE INTERESTS THAT PUT THE MONEY INTO OUR CAMPAIGN POCKETS. AND THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DEMOCRATS IS THEY GOT MIRED IN THE SAME MONEY THAT THE REPUBLICANS ARE MIRED IN.

Glover: AND HOW DO YOU STOP ISSUES LIKE GAY MARRIAGE, ABORTION RIGHTS? HOW DO YOU STOP YOUR OPPONENTS USING THOSE ISSUES TO DIVIDE AND CONQUER?

Hightower: WELL, THEY'RE GOING TO TRY TO DO THAT, BUT WE HAVE TO FIGHT BACK WITH OUR STRENGTHS, WHICH ARE THOSE ECONOMIC ISSUES. WE CAN SAY TO PEOPLE IN KANSAS OR WHEREVER, WE'RE GOING TO DISAGREE ON THOSE ISSUES BUT WE'RE NOT GOING TO START WITH YOU ON WHAT WE DISAGREE ON. WE'RE GOING TO START WITH WHAT WE DO AGREE ON. WE THINK THAT THESE TRADE SCAMS LIKE NAFTA AND THE NEW ONE COMING UP, CAFTA, THE CENTRAL AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT, WHICH IS BASICALLY NAFTA ON VIAGRA, WE THINK THAT THESE THINGS ARE KNOCKING YOU DOWN. AND WE THINK THE MIDDLE CLASS IS BEING DESTROYED, AND WE'RE GOING TO SEE TO IT THAT YOUR KID CAN GO TO SCHOOL FROM PRESCHOOL ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGHER EDUCATION FOR FREE JUST LIKE WE DID WITH THE G.I. BILL. WE'RE GOING TO SUPPORT TAKING THAT CAP OFF THE SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENT SO THAT WE CAN EVEN LOWER THE PAYMENTS THAT WORKING PEOPLE MAKE INTO SOCIAL SECURITY AND SHORE UP YOUR RETIREMENT FUND FOR THE LONG HAUL AND YOUR KIDS' RETIREMENT. WE'RE GOING TO MAKE SURE THAT THERE'S UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE. YOU GET HEALTH CARE WHETHER YOU'VE GOT A JOB, JUST BASED ON WHETHER YOU NEED THE HEALTH CARE. THESE KINDS OF OLD-TIME POPULIST ISSUES THAT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT, THAT THEY TALK ABOUT AROUND THEIR KITCHEN TABLES, THESE ARE THE KIND OF ISSUES AND, BASED ON THOSE VALUES OF FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND OPPORTUNITY, THAT PEOPLE WILL RESPOND TO. AND THEY'LL COME HOME TO THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IF THEY STAND UP AND DO IT.

Yepsen: CAN THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY BE REDEEMED? I MEAN GIVEN THE AMOUNT OF MONEY THAT SLOSHES AROUND IN POLITICS AND THERE DOESN'T SEEM TO BE, AT LEAST FROM MY VIEWPOINT, MUCH EFFORT TO TRY TO WEAN THE PARTIES AWAY FROM THIS CURRENT FINANCING SYSTEM, CAN THE DEMOCRATS BE SALVAGED?

Hightower: WELL, I THINK WE SAW A SIGN OF IT HAPPENING THE LAST ELECTION WITH MOVEON.ORG WITH THE HOWARD DEAN CAMPAIGN, THE ABILITY TO GO AROUND THE MONEY BLOCKAGE, AROUND INDEED THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY ESTABLISHMENT AND AROUND THE MEDIA ESTABLISHMENT AND GO DIRECTLY TO FOLKS AND GET A RESPONSE IN TERMS OF A LOT OF MONEY. SO I THINK IT'S POSSIBLE TO DO. I DON'T THINK IT'S GOING TO HAPPEN IF WE RELY ON CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS BECAUSE THEY ARE JUST -- THEY'RE LOCKED INTO WASHINGTON. THEY ARE UNDER THE DELUSION THAT SOMEHOW OR OTHER, THEY'RE THE PART OF GOVERNMENT WHEN, IN FACT, OF COURSE THEY'RE IRRELEVANT TO THE REPUBLICANS WHO REALLY RUN THE GOVERNMENT IN WASHINGTON. RATHER, I THINK WE'VE GOT TO GET BACK TO A GRASSROOTS APPEAL BASED ON SMALL DONORS, AND MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF SMALL DONORS.

Yepsen: IS THE SKY FALLING? ARE THINGS AS BAD AS OUR QUESTIONS WOULD SORT OF LEAD PEOPLE TO THINK? I MEAN JOHN KERRY DID GET MORE VOTES THAN ANYBODY ELSE, A CHALLENGER RUNNING FOR THE PRESIDENCY OF THE UNITED STATES. IF A HUNDRED AND SOME THOUSAND VOTES IN OHIO, AND WE WOULDN'T BE ASKING YOU A LOT OF THESE QUESTIONS. SO MAYBE NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THE DEMOCRATIC MESSAGE.

Hightower: WELL, I DON'T THINK THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THE FUNDAMENTAL DEMOCRATIC MESSAGE. I THINK IT COULD USE A STRONGER MESSENGER. IN KERRY'S CASE, I MEAN LET'S BE HONEST. I DON'T THINK HE COULD CONNECT WITH WORKING PEOPLE IF WE PUT HIM ON THE STREET CORNER GIVING AWAY FREE BUDWEISERS AND SLIM JIMS. BUT WE'VE GOT TO HAVE SOMEBODY WHO'S GOT A LITTLE OOMPH AND HAS GOT THAT FEEL TO THEM, I THINK. AND IT DOESN'T BEGIN IN A PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN. AND THAT'S ALSO THE MESSAGE THAT HOWARD DEAN IS PUSHING AND THAT I PUSH AND A LOT OF THE GROUPS THAT CAME UP THIS LAST TIME IS IMPORTANT FOR US RIGHT NOW IS WHO GETS ELECTED TO THE STATE LEGISLATURE AND COUNTY COMMISSIONER. THESE POSITIONS PERCOLATE UP POLITICS.

Yepsen: YOU'RE IN A STATE WHERE PEOPLE DO GET FIRST CRACK AT THESE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES, AND THAT'S LIKELY TO BE TRUE AGAIN IN '08. SO WRITE ME SOME PRESCRIPTIONS. WRITE, FOR OUR DEMOCRATIC VIEWERS, WHAT THEY OUGHT TO BE LOOKING FOR IN CANDIDATES WHO COME THROUGH HERE.

Hightower: SOMEBODY WHO IS NOT A CORPORATIST. SOMEBODY WHO IS WILLING TO TAKE ON THE CORPORATE ELITES. THAT'S OUR MESSAGE. THAT'S OUR STRENGTH. IT'S INTERESTING THAT KERRY, FOR EXAMPLE, DIDN'T CAMPAIGN AGAINST ENRON AND THE CORPORATE SCANDALS, WHICH INCLUDE BUSH, OF COURSE, WITH HIS OIL FIRMS AND CHENEY WITH HALLIBURTON, AND EVEN RUMSFELD WITH SEARLE PHARMACEUTICALS. SO HE HAD IT JUST IN HIS HANDS, AND HE WOULDN'T USE IT BECAUSE HE DIDN'T WANT TO OFFEND CORPORATE CONTRIBUTORS. SO WE'VE GOT TO SEPARATE. WORKING FOLKS, SMALL FARMERS, JUST REGULAR PEOPLE, THEY NEED A PARTY OF THEIR OWN. THE REPUBLICANS ARE THE PARTY OF THE CORPORATE ELITES. THOSE ELITES DON'T NEED TWO PARTIES. WE NEED A REAL COMPETITIVE PARTY THAT'S EVEN WILLING TO BE AGAINST THE CORPORATE ELITES.

Glover: LET'S LOOK DOWN THE ROAD A LITTLE BIT. TALK ABOUT THE 2006 MIDTERM ELECTION. WHAT KIND OF AN ELECTION IS THAT GOING TO BE? A GOOD YEAR FOR DEMOCRATS? A GOOD YEAR FOR REPUBLICANS?

Hightower: I THINK A GOOD YEAR FOR DEMOCRATS.

Glover: WHY?

Hightower: WELL, BECAUSE THERE ARE GOOD CANDIDATES THAT ARE GOING TO BE PUT FORWARD AROUND THE COUNTRY, AND THAT'S THE BASIS OF EVERY CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION THAT IT'S NOT ABOUT REALLY NATIONAL ISSUES. IT'S ABOUT NATIONAL ISSUES, NATIONAL SORT OF VIDE, BUT REALLY IT'S DEPENDENT ON LOCAL CANDIDATES. AND THROUGH THIS GRASSROOTS PROCESS THAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT EARLIER OF FOLKS -- SEIU HAS DONE A GREAT JOB. A GROUP CALLED PROGRESSIVE AMERICA HAS DONE A GREAT JOB, PROGRESSIVE MAJORITY, TRUE MAJORITY, AND OTHERS, AND MOVE ON, ET CETERA, AND HOWARD DEAN'S GROUP TOO, DEMOCRACY FOR AMERICA, IN GENERATING LOCAL CANDIDATES AND STANDING BEHIND THEM. SO THAT'S ONE THING THAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. THE SECOND THING IS REPUBLICANS HAVE A HEAP OF HURT RIGHT NOW. BUSH'S NUMBERS ARE OVER IN THE DITCH. I THINK HE'S JUST ABOVE MAD COW DISEASE RIGHT NOW IN TERMS OF OVERALL VOTER APPROVAL. HE'S GOT THAT WAR. AND HE CONTINUES TO PUSH SOCIAL SECURITY, WHICH EVERY TIME HE GOES OUT, SUPPORT FOR IT DROPS. SO I THINK THEY'VE GOT SOME HURT, BUT ONLY IF THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES GO OUT WITH THOSE HARD-CORE POPULIST ECONOMIC ISSUES.

Glover: AND LET'S LOOK FORWARD JUST A LITTLE BIT FURTHER TO THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL DRIVE THAT ELECTION, AND WHAT SORT OF CANDIDATES DO YOU THINK CAN SUCCEED?

Hightower: WELL, AGAIN, THE KIND OF CANDIDATE THAT I'M TALKING ABOUT, A TRUE POPULIST WHO'S GOT A LITTLE DIRT UNDER THE FINGERNAILS AND SOME EXPERIENCE IN LIFE THAT IS -- THAT IS WORKING CLASS OR FARM OR WHATEVER, SOME TOUCH TO THEM. AND THE ISSUES ARE, AGAIN, JUST A STRAIGHTFORWARD, POCKETBOOK, KITCHEN TABLE SORT OF ISSUES THAT FOLKS CARE ABOUT.

Glover: DO ANY NAMES COME TO MIND?

Hightower: WELL, HEALTH CARE, HEALTH CARE FOR EVERYBODY. WASHINGTON FUDDLES AROUND WITH, WELL, YOU KNOW, WE CAN'T SAY THE WORD UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE BECAUSE THAT WILL SCARE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN THAT. SO THEY FUTZ AROUND WITH THIS LITTLE BIT OF PRESCRIPTION DRUG BENEFIT FOR CERTAIN LOW INCOME SENIORS THROUGH MEDICARE, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. WELL, IN FACT, I DID A SECTION IN A BOOK THAT I WROTE. THE SECTION WAS CALLED "EVEN THE SMALLEST DOG CAN LIFT ITS LEG ON THE TALLEST BUILDING." AND I DID SOMETHING -- I WENT INTO THE POLLING DATA, THE ESTABLISHED POLLS AND, BENEATH THE SURFACE QUESTION, WENT DOWN INTO WHAT PEOPLE WERE SAYING. AND ON THE HEALTH CARE ISSUE, FOR EXAMPLE, 64 PERCENT OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THIS WAS 2002, SAID THAT THEY BELIEVE IT'S THE GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE SURE THAT EVERYBODY IN AMERICA HAS HEALTH CARE. THAT'S ALMOST A TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY OF THE COUNTRY. THAT'S A GREAT BASE TO BUILD ON.

Glover: OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN MENTIONED AS POTENTIAL CANDIDATES, I ASSUME JUST ON THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE, ANYBODY LOOK GOOD TO YOU?

Hightower: I MEAN NOBODY MAKES ME WANT TO JUMP UP AND GO JOIN THE CAMPAIGN RIGHT NOW, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT THEY CAN'T CHANGE. EVEN JOHN KERRY CHANGED IN HIS CAMPAIGN ON ISSUES LIKE NAFTA BECAUSE HE CAME HERE TO IOWA AND PLACES LIKE THAT. TO HIM, NAFTA AND THOSE TRADE SCAMS -- I CALL THEM GLOBAL-OGNA -- WERE ALL ABOUT COCKTAIL CHATTER. THEY'RE INTELLECTUAL ISSUES. BUT OUT HERE, IT'S ABOUT I'M GOING TO LOSE MY FARM OR I'M LOSING MY JOB. SO IT BECAME REAL AND HE WAS CONFRONTED WITH THAT AND HE REALIZED, WAIT A MINUTE, I NEED TO REALLY ADDRESS THAT, I NEED TO THINK ABOUT IT, AND HE CHANGED.

Yepsen: LET'S TALK ABOUT SOME OF THESE ISSUES THAT YOU'VE MENTIONED HERE. CAFTA IS ONE, THE TRADE INITIATIVE WITH LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES. WHY IS THAT BAD? PROPONENTS OF THAT ARE SAYING IT'S GOING TO FOSTER MORE AGRICULTURAL TRADE, WHICH WILL BE GOOD FOR RURAL AMERICA AND WILL, IN FACT, RAISE INCOME LEVELS OF PEOPLE IN THOSE OTHER COUNTRIES, WHICH WILL BE GOOD IN TERMS OF KEEPING THEM FROM POURING IN HERE AS ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?

Hightower: THEY SAID THE SAME THING ABOUT NAFTA. IN FACT, THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAID, AND THE REVERSE HAS HAPPENED. IT HAS NOT BEEN GOOD FOR FARMERS HERE OR IN MEXICO, BY THE WAY, OR IN CANADA. THE BENEFICIARIES HAVE BEEN A.D.M. AND CARGILL AND CONTINENTAL, THE BIG GRAIN TRADING COMPANIES THAT HAVE PROFITED BY BEING ABLE NOW TO SHOP AROUND THE WORLD FOR THE VERY CHEAPEST COMMODITY THAT THEY CAN FIND AND THEN STILL SHIP IT RIGHT BACK INTO OUR COUNTRY WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A PRETTY PLEASE. SO THE BENEFICIARIES HAD BEEN THE PEOPLE WHO WRITE THE DEAL. THAT'S NOT US. FARMERS ARE NOT SITTING AT THE TABLE. LABORERS ARE NOT SITTING AT THE TABLE. CORPORATIONS ARE SITTING AT THE TABLE WITH THE ELITES IN GOVERNMENT WHO COME OUT OF THE CORPORATE WORLD. THEY'RE THE ONES WHO WRITE THESE DEALS. AND ANYBODY WHO HAS BEEN IN A NEGOTIATION KNOWS THAT IF YOU'RE NOT PART OF THE NEGOTIATION, THEN YOU'RE NOT A PART OF THE DEAL.

Yepsen: BUT IS THERE ANY WAY TO STOP THE PRACTICE OF REPLACING LABOR IN RURAL AMERICA WITH CAPITAL, WHETHER IT'S FROM LARGE CORPORATIONS OR NOT? I MEAN POPULISTS HAVE BEEN COMPLAINING ABOUT THIS STUFF IN RURAL AMERICA FOR OVER A HUNDRED YEARS NOW, AND LOOK WHERE WE ARE.

Hightower: WELL, WE'VE HAD GOVERNMENTS, THOUGH, IN THAT HUNDRED YEARS THAT DID DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. WE HAD A NEW DEAL THAT DID INVEST IN RURAL AMERICA AND IN LOCAL ENTERPRISE. I DID IT WHEN I WAS AG COMMISSIONER OF TEXAS. I DIDN'T GO OFF -- COME HERE TO IOWA OR GO TO MINNESOTA OR NEW YORK SOMEWHERE AND SAY PLEASE, CORPORATIONS, COME DOWN AND WE'LL GIVE YOU SUBSIDIES IF YOU'LL COME TO TEXAS AND CREATE SOME LOW PAYING JOBS FOR US. RATHER, WE CREATED A PROGRAM THROUGH LOCAL BANKS THAT FINANCED LOCAL ENTERPRISES SO THE FARMERS AND ENTREPRENEURS AND THE BUSINESS PEOPLE IN SMALL TOWNS COULD BUILD THEIR OWN PROCESSING -- FOOD PROCESSING FACILITIES. WE ESTABLISHED MORE THAN 300 OF THOSE IN THE STATE. IF YOU GIVE PEOPLE A CHANCE, IF YOU GIVE THEM THE TOOLS, THEY'LL TAKE THOSE TOOLS AND MAKE IT WORK. FREE ENTERPRISE -- MY OLD FRIEND FRED HARRIS USED TO SAY, FREE ENTERPRISE, THE FREE IS NOT AN ADJECTIVE, IT'S A VERB. YOU HAVE TO FREE UP THE ENTERPRISE OF PEOPLE.

Glover: AND, MR. HIGHTOWER, IF WE COULD TALK ABOUT GLOBALIZATION FOR A SECOND. A TWO-PART QUESTION. ONE, HAVE YOU LOST THE FIGHT OVER GLOBALIZATION? IN FACT, NAFTA PASSED. IN FACT, MOST PREDICTIONS ARE THAT CAFTA WILL PASS. HAVE YOU LOST THAT BATTLE, AND IF NOT GLOBALIZATION, WHAT?

Hightower: WELL, I'M NOT AGAINST INTERNATIONALISM. LET ME CALL IT THAT BECAUSE GLOBALIZATION, WHAT I CALL CORPORATE GLOBALIZATION, I DON'T THINK WE HAVE LOST THAT FIGHT. I THINK THE FIGHT IS GOING TO GO ON. I'M NOT SURE THEY ARE GOING TO PASS CAFTA, FOR EXAMPLE, AND IN LARGE PART BECAUSE THEY'RE OVERREACHING. I DID TRADE WHEN I WAS THE COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE. WE FORMED A DEAL WITH MEXICO, WITH ISRAEL, WITH SOME ARAB COUNTRIES, ET CETERA. BUT WHAT WE DID WAS BRING FARMERS FROM THOSE COUNTRIES AND FARMERS FROM MY STATE TOGETHER. THEY SAT AT THE TABLE AND THEY MADE THE DEAL. SMALL BUSINESS PEOPLE TOO. AND THEY CUT THE DEALS AND, THEREFORE, THEY GOT THE MONEY. WE DIDN'T JUST BRING THE MIDDLEMAN IN AND LET THEM MAKE THE DEAL AND THEN SCREW BOTH SIDES. SO I THINK INTERNATIONALISM IS GOOD AND TRADE IS GOOD. I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH TRADE, BUT IT'S GOT TO BE TRADE IN WHICH WE'RE ALL AT THE TABLE DECIDING WHAT THE TERMS OF THE DEAL WOULD BE. AND LET ME JUST SPEAK VERY BRIEFLY ABOUT CAFTA. THE MEDIA, FRANKLY, AND THE DEMOCRATS HAVE MISSED THE BOAT ON THIS. THE REAL STORY ISN'T JOBS. THERE'S GOING TO BE VERY FEW JOBS ACTUALLY AFFECTED BY CAFTA ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, BECAUSE EVEN IN THOSE CENTRAL AMERICAN COUNTRIES, THESE JOBS ARE GOING TO CHINA. THEY'RE LOSING THEM ALREADY. THOSE GARMENT JOBS ARE LEAVING GUATEMALA, LEAVING HONDURAS AND EL SALVADOR. THEY'RE GOING TO CHINA. BUT THE REAL ISSUE IS THE UNDERMINING OF SOVEREIGNTY THAT IS IN THERE. WE HAD 28 GOVERNORS -- I'M NOT SURE ABOUT THE GOVERNOR OF IOWA, BUT WE HAD 28 GOVERNORS AGREE TO AN APPEAL FROM THE WHITE HOUSE, A QUIET APPEAL, TO CHANGE THEIR PROCUREMENT PRACTICES, TO SIGN AN AGREEMENT THAT THEY WOULD ADJUST THEIR STATE PROCUREMENT PRACTICES TO THE NEW TRADE DEAL OF CAFTA. EVEN THOUGH IT HADN'T EVEN BEEN WRITTEN, THEY AGREED TO SOMETHING THAT THEY HAD NOT SEEN. AND IT WAS IN FACT THE LETTER FROM THE TRADE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE WHITE HOUSE SAID: YOUR AGREEMENT WOULD NOT REQUIRE YOUR STATE TO CHANGE ITS CURRENT GOVERNMENT PROCUREMENT PRACTICES. HOWEVER, IT TURNS OUT WHEN THE ACTUAL DOCUMENT CAME OUT, IN CHAPTER NINE IT DOES INDEED REQUIRE THEM TO CHANGE THEIR PROCUREMENT PRACTICES. YOU CANNOT HAVE A BUY AMERICA PROGRAM USING YOUR STATE TAX DOLLARS. YOU CANNOT REQUIRE GREEN PURCHASES IN ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND PRODUCTS. YOU CAN'T RESPOND TO THE CORPORATE RECORD OF THE SUPPLIER. IF THEY'RE A BRUTAL DICTATORSHIP, YOU STILL HAVE TO -- EVEN IF THEY ENGAGE IN SWEATSHOP LABOR, YOU WOULD STILL HAVE TO ALLOW THEM TO SELL PRODUCTS TO YOUR STATE USING YOUR STATE TAX DOLLARS.

Yepsen: I WANT TO SHIFT GEARS. I WANT YOU TO PUT THAT AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER HAT ON AND TALK ABOUT WHAT IOWA SHOULD DO. YOU'VE BEEN AROUND THIS STATE A LOT. YOU'VE BEEN AROUND AMERICAN AGRICULTURE A LOT. INDIVIDUALS WATCHING THIS PROGRAM, WHAT SHOULD -- WHAT SHOULD THEY ASK OUR GOVERNOR AND THE LEGISLATURE TO BE DOING AND, MAYBE ALSO, WHAT SHOULD THEY BE DOING AS INDIVIDUALS TO MAKE FARMING MORE PROFITABLE?

Hightower: WELL, I THINK THERE ARE ABOUT THREE OR FOUR STEPS TO TAKE -- THAT I WOULD TAKE -- THAT I WOULD WANT TO DO IF I WAS A FARMER. ONE IS DIVERSIFY THE PRODUCTION, AND THIS NEEDS THE TRANSITION ASSISTANCE OF GOVERNMENT. THAT'S WHAT OUR NATIONAL FARM PROGRAM SHOULD BE, NOT JUST DOLING OUT MONEY BUT SAYING, ALL RIGHT, WE WILL HELP YOU MAKE A TRANSITION.

Borg: YOU MEAN TURN SOME OF OUR CORNFIELDS INTO GRAPEVINES?

Hightower: WELL, WHATEVER. I DON'T KNOW IF YOU CAN GROW GRAPES UP HERE OR WHAT BUT, YEAH --

Yepsen: THEY ARE.

Hightower: BUT ALSO, NOT HAVING -- NOT BEING DEPENDENT ON ONE OR TWO COMMODITIES, WHICH NEARLY EVERY FARM IS, BUT HAVE HALF A DOZEN, HAVE NINE OR TEN. SECONDLY, SELL THAT AS DIRECTLY AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN, DIRECT THROUGH FARMERS MARKETS, DIRECT THROUGH WHITE TABLECLOTH RESTAURANTS, DIRECT TO SUPERMARKETS, DIRECT IN THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET. WE ORGANIZED THAT IN THE STATE OF TEXAS. WE HAD VERY SMALL FARMERS SELLING HONEY TO DUBAI AND THINGS LIKE THAT. AND THEN THIRD OR FOURTH, SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION PRACTICES, WHICH IOWA HAS BEEN A LEADER IN. YOU HAVE THE GREAT CENTER HERE THAT ADVOCATES THAT, BECAUSE IT IS CHEAPER, IT MAKES MORE SENSE FOR THE LARGER SOCIETY, AND IT'S BETTER FOR THE FAMILIES.

Glover: MR. HIGHTOWER, STEP BACK AND LOOK AT A LARGER PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, THE WHOLE NOTION OF FARM SUBSIDIES. THERE ARE THOSE WHO ARGUE THAT FARM SUBSIDIES HAVE LONG BEEN TARGETED TO HELP FARMS GET BIGGER AND THAT YOUR PEOPLE DON'T BENEFIT VERY MUCH FROM FARM SUBSIDIES. IS IT TIME JUST TO END SUBSIDIES -- TRADITIONAL SUBSIDIES?

Hightower: NO, IT'S TIME TO REFOCUS THE SUBSIDIES IN A WAY THAT THEY DO WHAT SOCIETY WANTS DONE. SOCIETY CLEARLY IS SHOWING IN THE MARKETPLACE, WE WANT AS PURE A FOOD AS WE CAN GET WITH THE LEAST AMOUNT OF CHEMICALS, THE LEAST AMOUNT OF MESSING WITH THEM, THE FRESHEST FOOD, THE MOST LOCALLY PRODUCED FOOD. THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING THAT THEY WANT. SO WE OUGHT TO HELP MOVE IN THAT TRANSITION WAY WITH OUR FEDERAL TAX DOLLARS. BUT YOU'RE RIGHT, WE SHOULD NOT JUST BE DOLING OUT MONEY BASED ON ACREAGE. THAT RESULTS -- WELL, IN FACT, 60 PERCENT OF FARMERS IN AMERICA GET ZERO, NOT A PENNY OUT OF THE FARM PROGRAM. AND YOU'VE GOT GUYS LIKE CHARLES SCHWAB, BUSH'S BUDDY, WALKING AROUND WITH $500,000 A YEAR IN RICE SUBSIDIES SO HE CAN HAVE A DUCK HUNTING CLUB CALLED CASA DE PATOS OUT IN CALIFORNIA.

Glover: BUT IS THERE A REALISTIC CHANCE OF MAKING THAT CHANGE GIVEN THE CURRENT STRUCTURE IN CONGRESS?

Hightower: NO. BUT GIVEN THE POLITICS AT A GRASSROOTS LEVEL WHERE FARMERS GET TOGETHER WITH ENTREPRENEURS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS AND CONSUMERS AND ET CETERA AND BEGIN TO CHANGE IT LOCALLY AND DEMAND OF THEIR CANDIDATES FOR CONGRESS, WAIT A MINUTE, THIS IS A WAY TO GO AND IT'S GOING TO SAVE TAXPAYER MONEY AND MAKE ALL KINDS OF SENSE AND MAKE FARMS PROFITABLE, THEN IT'S GOT A CHANCE. BUT IT'S GOT TO BUILD FROM THE GRASSROOTS.

Yepsen: SPEAKING OF CONGRESS, WHAT SHOULD BE IN THE NEXT FARM BILL?

Hightower: WELL, OF COURSE, I'M -- I'VE BEEN IN FAVOR IN TERMS OF A FARM PROGRAM ITSELF, BASED ON THE REALITY THAT THE TRADABLE COMMODITIES, THE BIG COMMODITIES THAT WE DEAL WITH IN AMERICAN AGRICULTURE, THAT OUR MAJOR PROBLEM IS OVERPRODUCTION, THAT WE NEED A SUPPLY MANAGEMENT PROGRAM CONTROLLED ESSENTIALLY BY FARMERS SO THAT THEY CAN CONTROL THEIR ACREAGE BASED ON PRODUCTION RECORDS, WHICH ARE READILY AVAILABLE AT A COUNTY LEVEL, BASED ON WHAT THE MARKET WANTS, BOTH THE CASH MARKET AND THE CREDIT MARKET AND THE HUMANITARIAN MARKET.

Yepsen: WHY IS THAT BETTER, MR. HIGHTOWER, THAN FREE TRADE, FENCE ROW TO FENCE ROW, GROW ALL WE CAN, AND SELL IT ALL OVER THE WORLD?

Hightower: WELL, BECAUSE WE'VE BEEN TRYING THAT. WE HAVE A SAYING IN TEXAS, IF YOU FIND THAT YOU'VE DUG YOURSELF INTO A HOLE, THE VERY FIRST THING TO DO IS QUIT DIGGING. AND THEY'RE STILL DIGGING WITH THAT SAME, OH, WE'VE JUST GOT TO PRODUCE MORE AND WE'LL HAVE EXPORT SUBSIDIES. WELL, FARMERS DON'T DO THE EXPORTING. IT'S CARGILL THAT DOES THE EXPORTING, SO THEY'RE THE ONES WHO GET THE SUBSIDIES. SO RATHER THAN THAT MODEL, IT SEEMS TO ME THAT WE GO TO A MODEL SO THAT FARMERS ARE IN CHARGE OF THEIR PRODUCTION. YOUR NEWSPAPER DOES NOT PRODUCE MORE PAPERS TOMORROW THAN THEY THINK THEY'RE GOING TO SELL. FARMERS AREN'T IN A POSITION TO BE ABLE TO CONTROL THEIR SUPPLY. SO YOU HAVE TO HAVE A MECHANISM THAT LETS THEM PRODUCE FOR WHAT THE MARKET ACTUALLY WANTS.

Glover: AND WHAT ROLE DOES THE NATION'S IMMIGRATION POLICY PLAY IN ALL OF THIS? A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO COME TO THIS COUNTRY COME TO WORK IN AGRICULTURE. WHAT SHOULD OUR IMMIGRATION POLICY BE?

Hightower: WELL, OUR IMMIGRATION POLICY CAN'T BE ISOLATED. IT'S GOT TO BE BASED ON OUR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC POLICY. FOLKS ARE COMING FROM MEXICO NOT BECAUSE THEY PARTICULARLY WANT TO LIVE IN MY TOWN OF AUSTIN OR IN THE RURAL AREAS HERE IN IOWA, BUT BECAUSE THEY'RE SEEKING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY. I WOULD DO THE SAME THING, AND IT WOULD BE DAMN HARD TO STOP ME FROM COMING ACROSS THAT BORDER IF I HAD A FAMILY TO FEED BACK THERE, AN EXTENDED FAMILY, AND CARED ABOUT THEM. BUT THE RECORD IS THOSE FOLKS MAKE TRIPS BACK ALL THE TIME. THEY WANT TO GO HOME. SO I THINK OUR POLICY HAS GOT TO BE, INSTEAD OF THINGS LIKE NAFTA THAT ALLOW INTERNATIONAL CONGLOMERATES TO BASICALLY EXPLOIT PEOPLE HERE AND THERE, IT'S GOT TO BE BASED ON THE REALITY OF LET'S REALLY BUILD UP THE FARMS IN MEXICO AND REALLY BUILD UP THE ECONOMIC POSSIBILITIES THERE SO THEY DON'T HAVE TO COME ACROSS.

Borg: MR. HIGHTOWER, THANKS FOR BEING OUR GUEST TODAY.

Hightower: MY PLEASURE. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Borg: AND THAT'S IT FOR THIS WEEKEND'S EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS." I'M DEAN BORG. THANKS FOR JOINING US TODAY.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM WAS PROVIDED BY "FRIENDS," THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE; AND BY CAPITOL RESOURCES, INC., LOCATED IN BROOKLYN, IOWA; AND BY NICOLE SCHLINGER AND ERIC LANGE INDIVIDUALLY, FUND-RAISING AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES FOR MAJOR CAMPAIGNS SINCE 1996.

Tags: Iowa Mad Cow