Jim Hightower

Gallup? Hang Up!

Boy, the American electorate must really be worn out! Pollsters tell us that voters have been darting hither, thither and yon in the presidential race, first dashing en masse to George W. Bush, then surging back toward Al Gore, then rushing to an in-between point–all within a few weeks.

Are voters really this fluid and energetic, switching suddenly from side to side like flocks of birds in flight? Of course not. It’s the pollsters who are the energetic ones, energetically pushing the polls and playing with the numbers. The problem is that the giant media outlets, which hire the pollsters, have reduced election coverage to a silly prognostication game of “Who’s Winning?” They don’t want “Who knows?” or “Who cares?” as an answer, so they demand definitive numbers, even when there are no such numbers. The result is that pollsters push voters who haven’t made up their minds. Some voters finally name one or the other candidate just to make the pollster go away. If pollsters can’t get a firm answer from a voter, they’ll press the beleaguered citizen to declare which candidate they’re “leaning toward,” and those so-called leanings get tallied as being “for” that candidate. A week later, another pollster pushes another set of voters and gets a different result, which is solemnly reported as a “switch” in public opinion, when in fact it’s the same voter ambivalence about both of the turkeys running.

But the fatal flaw in the figures of pollsters is the one the profession most wants to keep secret from us: the majority of voters have simply stopped responding to pollsters. Columnist William Safire reports that two-thirds of people called now either hang-up on pollsters or use answering machines to screen them out. So, a poll’s numbers are not based on, say, 1,000 Americans called, but only on the 330 or so “respondents” who answered the call, thus skewing the results. If you, like most people, don’t think polls reflect reality–you’re right.

THE WORSE GET WORSER

An important political anniversary just passed. It’s been a year now since Bill Clinton’s big, four-day, six-state “Presidential Poverty Tour Across America.” Remember all the hoopla, the media blitz, the poignant stories, the touching pictures… and, of course, the political promises? From Clarksville, Mississippi, to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, from Hazard, Kentucky, to the barrios of Los Angeles, the president was shown compassionately commiserating with some of our nation’s most impoverished families.

The New York Times reports that the people of Clarksville, 40 percent of whom live in poverty, were real excited to have a president stroll through their hard-hit town: “He passed the boarded Roxy Theater, the closed-down Pac-Man lounge, and the falling-down wooden houses,” the Times reported, and he stopped at the Ooo So Pretty gift shop to talk with owner Shirley Fair and other folks about the injustice of such poverty in a nation blessed with such conspicuous wealth. “It was a great Kodak moment,” said Ms. Fair. But, a year later, despite Clinton’s pledge that help was on the way, nothing’s changed. “It’s like the president never came,” said a Clarksville businessman. “Here,” said another resident, “Things just get worser.”

It was not a mirage, however–it was a hoax. The President used the poor people to get on TV and look like he gave a damn. Then he went back to the White House and did nothing. Oh, yeah, he sent a bill up to Congress asking for tax breaks for any corporation that would build a factory in Clarksville, but he hasn’t spent a penny’s worth of political capital to get even this pitiful, trickle-down action enacted. Meanwhile, neither Al Gore nor George W. Bush have proposed doing anything for America’s millions of poor people… except urge them to pray more.

When Wall Street wanted NAFTA, the WTO, or its job-sucking China bill, Clinton went all out to deliver for them, but when poor people need a president, Clinton delivers a photo-op. And they wonder why most Americans aren’t voting.

ASTROTURF ACTIVISM

How many legs does a dog have if you count its tail as a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.

Neither can “Citizens for Better Medicare” be counted as a grassroots group just because its organizers call it one. This outfit has already spent $38 million on television ads proposing federal funding of prescription drugs for seniors. Sounds good, but who exactly are these “Citizens” for Better Medicare? The organization turns out to be a front group for the large drug companies. The Wall Street Journal reports that CBM is funded by the drug giants, and it’s headed by the former marketing director of the industry’s lobbying arm. While CBM wants Medicare to cover prescriptions, it’s also adamant that the government should do nothing to hold down the prices that the companies charge for these prescriptions. What a deal! These huge corporations, already notorious for gouging American consumers, would gain millions of new customers through Medicare, then be able to bill us taxpayers for whatever rip-off price the profiteers want to charge. It’s like bank robbers demanding that government tie up the guards and hold open the doors to the bank vault for them.

This so-called citizens group claims to have 300,000 members, but the Journal notes that anyone who clicks onto the group’s web site automatically is counted as a “member.” CBM also lists medical organizations as supporters, yet several of these groups have complained that they never gave permission and do not support the drug companies greedy grab. Meanwhile, not only are the drug giants flooding the airwaves with deceptive ads, but they’re flooding the halls of Congress with some 300 hired lobbyists, and so far they’ve flooded our lawmakers with more than $11 million in campaign contributions for this fall’s elections.

Yes, Medicare should cover prescription drugs for seniors, but, like other countries, Medicare should negotiate a deeply-discounted price to keep the drug companies from robbing us.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. His new book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or write [email protected]

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