Thieves in High Places

Thieves in High Places By Jim Hightower

They say a great actor can read the side of a cereal box and make you cry. I doubt it. Jim Hightower couldn’t read the side of a cereal box if you paid him, not without dragging in about 85 analogies and bits of wisdom his neighbor told him about how to relate to hogs and chickens. But by the time he was through improving on that cereal box, you’d be stomping your feet and clutching your sides to control the laughter, and in the process you’d have learned what nutrition was in the box, how it got there, and how much the people packing the boxes got paid for their labor.

Hightower’s new book, “Thieves in High Places,” takes 200 pages to make about 200 important points using about 500 colorful metaphors, generating at least 400 belly laughs, and while you can read the thing in one evening, it’ll stick with you for good.

For those who’ve read Hightower’s earlier books “If the Gods Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates,” “There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos,” or his newsletter “The Hightower Lowdown,” or if you listen to his radio show or have heard him speak on his Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour, this book will not come as a huge surprise, but it may just be his best riffing and ranting yet, and you will enjoy it. For those new to Hightower, or even new to the idea that politics might be either useful or fun or both, get yourself a copy of this book and a quiet place where you can laugh out loud and think about it.

Much of this book, in fact, is explicitly addressed to people who have never been politically active before but who have finally gotten fed up enough to get involved. This book presents a case that the United States is moving toward fascism, and does so without exaggeration or hyperbole, does so in fact with gut wrenching humor and a prodding, inciting, encouraging call to get off our butts and fight back – now, before it’s too late.

For those used to hearing this kind of talk or who work as political activists all the time, this book compares quite favorably to others that are out there – say Michael Moore’s or Arianna Huffington’s – and compiles in one place not just a superb collection of soundbites, but an immense arsenal of facts. You may even be surprised to discover that things are much worse than you’ve been told, but also that more Americans are already fighting back, that more of us get it than you have been willing to let yourself hope.

Hightower recounts a lot of grassroots successes, but he doesn’t go easy on painting the disaster that is our current national government. Let me just mention a few high points (or low points). Pages 27 to 32 list in tiny font an endless stream of anti-environmental measures put in place thus far by the Bush administration. It’s enough to make you start looking for another planet. Pages 57 to 62 make the currently quite important point that Joe Lieberman would not be much of a change.

Pages 81 to 88 lay out the even more important and less talked about case that the pit our money is being lost in – even more than it is being lost to the Bush tax cuts for millionaires – is the Pentagon budget, that over half of every tax dollar goes into this pit, and that other priorities, like schools, health care, and jobs, will take a back seat until limitations are imposed on military waste.

Pages 102-103 make the case quite compellingly that the Democratic Party has been on a losing course because it has tried to be Republican-Lite. Here’s the Democratic bumper sticker according to Hightower:

“Hey-we-back-tax-cuts-for-the-rich-too-And-we-support-Bush’s-war-and-also-his-Big-Honking-homeland-security-department-Though-we’re-not-quite-as-sure-about-it-all-as-the-Republicans-are.”

Pages 106-107 lay out what a winning platform for the Democrats would be: progressive taxation, single-payer health care for all, free quality education for all from preschool through college, alternative energy, and public financing of elections. Of course, there is one Democrat running for President with that very program: Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and I kept waiting – in vain — for Hightower to say so.

What Hightower does say – and this may be worth the price of the book by itself – is that these progressive positions are actually very popular. On pages 118-122, Hightower lays out a collection of mainstream public polls that paint a picture of Americans as very progressive – something Fox News just doesn’t tell us. This could explain the number of people bewildered by the fact that not only they but all of their friends as well disagree with what Fox News tells them is the popular point of view.

The only complaint I have with this book is that it closes with a fantasy about a mythical presidential candidate who walks and talks remarkably like Jim Hightower. If Hightower wants to run for President, I’ll support him, but I’d almost rather see him keep up just the sort of agitating he’s been doing and back the candidate who is articulating the same positions from within the Democratic party, namely Dennis Kucinich.