To hear Texas populist Jim Hightower and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. tell it,
one of them should be running for president in 2004. Trouble is that each one
says the other guy would be the best candidate.
Hightower and Jackson have been star speakers on the Rolling Thunder Down Home
Democracy Tour, which rolled into Chicago last weekend. The Chicago event - the
second on a national tour that began in Hightower's hometown of Austin -
drew 5,000 people for workshops on food, agriculture and democracy issues, speeches
by the likes of Studs Terkel and Patch Adams, and music from artists such as Grammy
Award-winning singer Erykah Badu.
At this county fair of the left, where progressives played TrueMajority carnival
games ("Knock-a-Nuke/Build-a-School") and downed Organic Valley toasted
cheese sandwiches and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, talk of a two-years-off presidential
race ranked surprisingly high on the agenda. For the most part, supporters of
the 2000 campaigns of Democrat Al Gore and Green Ralph Nader put old arguments
behind them and focused on the task of beating Republican George Bush in 2004.
While Gore and the predictable crowd of Democratic insiders are already hustling
for the next nomination, however, there was no consensus about the identity of
the best standard-bearer for progressives. There was talk about U.S. Rep. Dennis
Kucinich, D-Ohio, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who has won
high marks for his challenges to the Bush administration on military issues.
On the main stage, however, Jackson and Hightower amused the crowd by trading
pitches for another pair of candidates.
After Hightower introduced Jackson, the Illinois congressman asked the crowd:
"Wouldn't you like to see Jim Hightower on a presidential ticket?"
That remark drew loud cheers from a crowd in which "Jim Hightower - Progressive
for President" bumper stickers were circulating. The stickers are being distributed
by a group that has set up a Web site (www.drafthightower.com), and that argues
only Hightower - a former Texas agriculture commissioner with a long history of
battling the Bush family in the Lone Star state - understands how to undo the
popular president with a populist appeal. Their slogan: "Fight Texans With
But Hightower turned the tables on Jackson. "Speaking of presidential
tickets ...," he told the crowd after the Chicago representative finished
speaking. "I'd like to see Congressman Jackson on a presidential ticket.
Who's for that?"
The hometown crowd cheered just as loudly for Jackson, whose rousing speech
updated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" address
with proposals for constitutional amendments guaranteeing equal rights for women,
access to health care and education and - in the light of the contested 2000 presidential
election result - the right to vote and have that vote counted.
For the record, both Hightower and Jackson say they are not running. But if
the Rolling Thunder event in Chicago had been a nominating convention, the Hightower-Jackson
ticket might well have won by acclamation. Or would that be the Jackson-Hightower
John Nichols is associate editor for The Capital Times.
Copyright 2002 The Capital Times