Jim Hightower

Soothing, Smoothing, and Schmoozing


In the world of crime there are thieves in the streets and thieves in the suites, there are bank robbers and banks that rob, there are muggers, murderers, polluters, and finaglers–all kinds and all levels of crime. But the House Republican leadership summoning all of its moral outrage and all six of its brain cells, has now singled out one particular crime for national attention: Slogan Theft. Yes, GOP leaders have gotten their tights in a twist because, they allege, the dastardly Democrats have stolen one of the Republican’s favorite political slogans. The Democrats recently unveiled their 2002 congressional campaign theme: “Securing America’s Future For All Our Families.” This prompted Republican House leader Dick Armey to call a press conference on the Capitol steps, where he harrumphed and harangued, accusing the Democrats of committing a sloganeering heist. Working himself into a froth, Armey growled: “We were securing America’s future long before they stumbled onto this rhetorical–what should I say?–hijacking.”

Of course, the real hijacking is of the American people’s political power, with both parties selling control of our democratic process to the Big Money interests, then trying to appease us with vacuous slogans that have all the substance of a soap ad, minus the sincerity. Instead of standing on principle or exciting us with bold ideas, the parties have become experts at soothing, smoothing, schmoozing, sloganeering.

Said slogans are carefully polled, subjected to focus groups, and phrase-tested to be inoffensive, middle-of-the-road, and mildly hallucinogenic. “Compassionate conservatism,” said George W in the 2000 presidential race. “Pragmatic Idealism,” said Al Gore. “Huh?” said the majority of America’s eligible voters, who voted for neither of them.


Lawrence Small may be perfectly named for the job he’s doing. He’s now the head of the venerable Smithsonian Institution, our nation’s ultimate public museum and science center. The Smithsonian was established by Congress in 1846 for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge” among the public. But Small doesn’t seem to be able to measure up to this job. Instead of serving the public interest, this former investment banker is intent on turning the Smithsonian into a shameless shill for corporate products and propaganda by selling pieces of the institution to the Fortune 500. For $7.8 million, Small changed the name of the panda area at the National Zoo to “Fujifilm Giant Panda Conservation Habitat.” For $10 million, Small renamed a theater at the National Air & Space Museum the “Lockheed Martin Imax Theater.” For another $10 million, Small created a new exhibit hall called the “General Motors Hall of Transportation.” “They are selling the good name of the Smithsonian,” says Bernard Finn, a curator at the history museum. “We are trying to present history in an unbiased, professional way using the best scholarship, but the public will get the impression the Smithsonian is for sale.” Likewise,170 scholars wrote a letter to the Smithsonian’s board of regents saying that Small is “degrading this great cultural institution into a corporate pitchman.”

In March, visitors to the Smithson-ian’s natural history museum were handed a four-page, glossy guide. It was paid for by Phillips Petroleum and, on the back page, there was a full-color ad promoting oil drilling in Alaska. Small whines that he needs more money than Congress now appropriates and has no choice but to sell off chunks of the place for the propagandistic purposes of corporations.


Right-wing Georgia Republican Bob Barr recently issued a press release declaring excitedly that Barr “is taking a strong, proactive stance against the spread and marketing of …”–of what? Something awful, right, like crack cocaine or land mines or child pornography? What has Bob’s undies in a wad is the spread and marketing of Hemp products. Yes, such products as strong rope, fine writing paper, graceful clothing, nutritious foods, non-polluting fuels, and even earth-friendly plastics are made from the humble hemp plant. Never mind that hemp has been used to make maritime, farm, industrial, and household products for thousands of years. Never mind that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cultivated hemp as a major cash crop. Never mind that the Declaration of Independence itself was drafted on hemp paper. Never mind that hemp would be a profitable, environmentally sound crop for family farmers today. Never mind all this, says his Bobness, because “Hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant.” Hello … Bob. Bread and beer both come from the same plant, and I don’t hear you ranting about taking wheat products off the nation’s shelves. Yet that’s exactly what he and our thuggish Drug Enforcement Agency are calling for in regard to cosmetics and foods made of hemp–banning them from sale in the Land of the Free. Hey, get a clue. While hemp is a biological cousin of marijuana, it is NOT a drug or hallucinogen. You couldn’t get high on it if you ate an entire extra-large hemp sweatshirt or smoked a 30-foot hemp rope. n

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.