Sunday, July 13, 2003


I've been reading Jim Hightower's "There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos," as rollicking and rousing a bit of populist commonsense and righteous anger as I've read in a long while, and am resisting the urge to pull extensive quotes from it because I'd be hard pressed to stop once started. It's the optimism more than anything else that makes Jim an engaging read, though it helps that he's clearly a guy you could talk politics with over beer and brats while watching the game at a bar rather than another out of touch egghead or dipshit hippie. Sometimes the cornpone gets a bit thick and I found myself wishing for endnotes to support the details; still, he's got the stones we wish the mainstream Democrats would grow and an infectious intolerance for greedy wingnut corporate fascism.

Here's the one pull:
During the Civil War, numerous corporations were chartered to supply the Union Army, and the commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, did not find it a positive experience. In an ominous foreboding of corrupt practices by today's Pentagon contractors, many of these corporations delivered shoddily made shoes, malfunctioning guns, and rotten meat. Honest Abe viewed the rise of the corporations as a disaster, penning these thoughts in an 1864 letter:

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign ... until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of the war.

Sure enough, during the next three decades, assorted industrialists and corporate flimflam artists known collectively as the robber barons were enthroned, taking hold of both the economy and the government. Corruption did abound, from state houses to the White House (so much so in President Ulysses Grant's term that he was compelled to issue a public apology to the people for the tawdriness of his administration), and the concentration of wealth ... reached proportions unheard of until today ...

In only a century, the corporation was transformed into a superhuman creature of the law, superior to you and me, since it has civil rights with no civil responsibilities; it is legally obligated to be selfish; it cannot be thrown into jail; it can deduct from its tax bill any fines it gets for wrongdoings; and it can live forever.

Anti-corporate sentiment usually gets you dismissed as being against jobs, business, and progress, Hightower shows how easy it is to be pro-business, pro-jobs, pro-progress without bending over to be anally raped by the CEO who wants to, oh let's say, force taxpayers to pay for cleaning up the toxic waste his company spewed into our drinking water up until he shipped all the jobs overseas where he could hire dirt cheap slave labor so he could amp up his opulent lifestyle by installing gold fixtures in one of his corporate jets. Hightower reminds us that this country wasn't founded as a means to concentrate wealth in the hands a few ruling families; that the populist tradition is the best of the American tradition -- not, as today's Republicans would have you believe, a horrible blight to be undone. He reminds us that most people want a strong public school system so everyone has access to a quality education because that's in the best interest of the nation. He reminds us that most people want clean air, unpolluted water, not live next to toxic waste dumps, and that wanting those things doesn't make you an eco-wacko treehugger, it makes you sane. He points out that people want jobs, not lectures on morality from people who close down factories so they can set up sweatshops in third world countries. Not wanting to buy sneakers made by pre-teen girls chained to dangerous machines making pennies for their labor isn't Communist any more than it is anti-progress or anti-business: it's freaking ethics! It's trying to live a decent life without doing so on the backs of the poor.
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