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Jim Hightower's Tips on 21st Century Populism, and Obama's Rare Opportunity

"I say the greatest thing about America is Americans. The people themselves, at a grassroots level, are doing the most extraordinary things."

The following is an interview with Jim Hightower, radio commentator and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, just released in paperback .

 Mark Karlin: First off, as a native Texan, you must be celebrating George W. Bush's return to your home state. 

Jim Hightower: We're all so very excited.  He's in his little ghetto in Preston Hollow and we're totally sure that he'll not be bothering us here in Austin or any other part of Texas. 

Karlin: What happened to his Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford? 

Jim Hightower: He keeps insisting that he's going to go back and forth to it pretty much as he did during the Presidency. His ranchero, as I call it, is a curious ranch in the sense that it has no cattle on it.  That's kind of rare in Texas to have a ranch but no livestock whatsoever on it.  And in fact, of course, he built that in 1999 when Karl Rove was trying create an image for him as the cowboy president.  But Laura doesn't like the ranch, so I don't think he's going to be spending a lot of time there either. Maybe he'll spend time at the library, I guess, reading his book. 

Karlin: Isn't the Bush "library" going to really be a Disneyesque fantasy ride? What do you think of this whole enterprise to build a post-facto Bush legacy? It reminds me of what they did with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Silicon Valley. He was an actor, and the museum is somewhat of a Hollywood tribute to him. 

Jim Hightower: Yes. Well, this is exactly what you would expect from the corporate-financed monument to the sheer brilliance, incredible insight and balls of President Bush 43. And it is unique among libraries at the institutions at higher learning. It will be located at Southern Methodist University in Highland Park in Dallas, but the University has no control whatsoever over it. It's a totally private entity, essentially set up on campus, with the imprimatur of a university, but without the university exercising any influence, and no academic standards bearing on the exhibits or on the so-called scholarship, that they insist will be coming out of there. And Karl Rove is overseeing the Institute of Higher Bushism that will be generated from this edifice.   

Karlin: You've been an important part of the landscape of populism in the United States, and way beyond Texas, and a great friend of the late brilliant journalist Molly Ivins. What do you see in this election with Obama? It certainly was a grassroots movement. But in the governing side we've seen so far, would you call him in any way a populist or progressive?  What's the difference in your mind between populism and progressivism? 

Jim Hightower: No, I don't call him a populist -- not yet.  I think he has some populist instincts, including his upbringing and his experience as a community organizer in Chicago. But from what we've seen thus far, he has presented himself as a centrist Democrat who is showing way too much Bill Clintonism and Robert Rubenism and way too little of the populist positions and populist embrace that he exhibited in the campaign. 

I think it's still too early to say that he's not going to get to that point. But as, as I said when I endorsed him back in the Texas primary, the significant thing about the Obama phenomena is not Obama, it's the phenomenon that millions of people, particularly young folks and especially out of the Netroots segment, came forth to create this guy as their candidate. It's our candidate, because I did embrace him. And that was the significant theme -- that without big money, without professional organizing, without established progressive organizations, even -- they put this guy over the top. 

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