Progressive Profiles: With New TV Show, Radio Talker Thom Hartmann Brings Substance to Style
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On "The Big Picture" television show, Hartmann hosts a more evenly divided mix of progressive and conservative guests than appear on his radio program. The show has its own visual style, mixing the raw feel of shots from a shoulder-mounted camera with more standard high-tech videography. Hartmann introduces each segment with a stand-up piece that often draws on his knowledge as a self-educated historian, as he did when I appeared on the show on election night.
Before he settled in at his desk to talk with me about the role played by astroturfing groups to shape the 2010 midterm congressional elections, Hartmann did a riff on a bit of history I knew nothing about -- the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907, which forbade the direct participation of corporations in elections, a law undone by the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United case. (You can watch Thom Hartmann's riff here: it begins at around the 9:02 mark.)
At the restaurant table, Thom illustrates the impact of Citizens United on the re-election prospects for Barack Obama, who, he says, will now probably have spend $1 billion in order to win the presidency.
"Which means every morning when he gets up -- 365 days a year, Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, Christmas -- he's gotta raise $1.3 million or he's not going to be president. Now with that comes some problems. Then you've got senators," Hartmann continues, "Six or seven years ago a senator who is an acquaintance of mine said, 'I wake up every morning knowing that I have to raise $20,000 today.' And he said, 'It's a horrifying thing to think of and it prevents me from doing most of my job.' Because they have to rent an office that's not on federal property and just sit there dialing for dollars all day and have fundraisers every evening. It's no way to live. It's no way to do politics. It's crap. It's crappy politics. It's totally corrupt."
Until progressives turn their focus to getting the money out of politics, Hartmann believes, they can't succeed with the rest of their agenda. "If we don't understand that our politicians live in that world and the only thing that's going to change that world is movement politics -- grassroots activism -- we're deluded. We have to do for [the cause of getting] money [out of] politics what movement politics did for civil rights, what it did for women's suffrage, what it did for abolition... We've got to do that for extracting -- for getting this cancer out of the core of our political system."
A Lifelong, Globetrotting Partnership
Thom and Louise Hartmann met when they were teenagers, and have been a team ever since. Thom was a 17-year-old student at Michigan State University and Louise was still in high school. Both hung with the crowd that ran the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.
"I met Louise at a party," Thom Hartmann says, "and the next time we got together was at the university because she was spending most of her time hanging out with the SDS crowd, at the Student Union at MSU, and that's where we hung out. There were a bunch of people who were basically skipping school from high school who were hanging out with people who were skipping school from college. That and we were all just protesting the war and getting high. Or one or the other, or both."
Hartmann, always handy with electronics, began a stereo-repair business in the back of a local head shop, and when the business took off, he dropped out of college.