If Obama would do what Roosevelt did, and say I welcome their hatred, I'm not going to put the CEOs in charge of the bailout, and, yes, we're going to have salary caps on these banking positions when they get bailout money, and, yes, we're going to fire the executives who caused the problem -- why would we hire them? -- if he would do that, it would tap directly into the overwhelming public sentiment against Wall Street. He's got an opportunity here that's just remarkable, really. -- Jim Hightower, radio commentator and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow
Jim Hightower: No, I don't call [Obama] 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.
To me, the main thing about the Obama presidency, is not going to be him, but the grassroots forces that compel him to be better than he otherwise would be. And he's gone into a Washington that has 13,000 corporate lobbyists, that has a locked-in, recalcitrant Republican barrier, that has way too many weak-kneed corporate Democrats, and that has a White House with too many Larry Summerses and Timothy Geithners. So the only progressivism we can expect to get out of him is what we force out.
To me, he opened the door to the White House, and I do believe he remains open to all of these progressive ideas, including a big blue-green program that can remake and revive the American economy. I think he's that open to a brand-new way of looking at the world. He's open to just about any progressive idea, I think. But he has said pretty clearly in the old FDR manner, you have to make me do it.
So to me, that's our role. We as progressives cannot just to settle back into the Lazy Boy and say, oh, Barack's in there now -- he'll take care of it. No, that's not how democracy has ever worked, and it's certainly not going to be the way it's going to work under Obama. We have to be more aggressive than ever. And I think that a lot of the progressive community has sat back somewhat dazed, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, yet befuddled by the shortage of full-blown populist, progressive forces on the inside. Many are still not pushing the way that we have to push.
Read the interview.