Jim Hightower

Here Comes Hastert the Healer


Before we all drown in the current media gusher about how the latest GOP Speaker-to-be Dennis Hastert is “the grandfatherly coach” that Washington needs, the gentle “peacemaker from the plains,” the “anti-Newt” godsend in a time of “raw partisan cannibalism,” the self-effacing “healer,” the “Great Compromiser and Conciliator,” the “Consensus builder,” etc., etc. – let’s at least pause to read a bit of the fine print on the guy.

Even though he had a non-race in the November election (his opponent raised less than $25,000), Hastert collected more than a million, mostly from Wall Street financiers, bankers, telecommunications giants, energy companies, health care corporations, and other special interests that have been able to count on his consistent and enthusiastic subservience to their needs on matters that come before his committees: Commerce (energy, health, environment, telecommunications, trade, etc.) and Government Oversight (natural resources, regulatory affairs, national security, trade, etc.).He was a point man for pushing Newt’s “Contract with America,” and especially for defending HMOs and insurance companies from any serious consumer protections and regulations on behalf of us patients (for example, he was the chief negotiator trying to kill legislation giving moms a two-day stay in the hospital with their newborn babies, rather than the one-day-and-out rule mandated by HMOs).Hastert has been a bulwark of the new Globaloney, actively supporting NAFTA in ’93, GATT (which hung the W.T.O. albatross around America’s neck) in the lame-duck Congress of November ’94, Fast Track in ’97, and the Caribbean initiative in ’97 and ’98.He opposed the miserly ninety-cent increase in minimum wage in 1996, even though the increase still means full-time workers are paid about $4,000 less than the poverty level; yet he pushed hard in this same year to give the Pentagon (and its weapons contractors) $7 billion more than the generals themselves requested.Hastert positions himself as a strict moralist in keeping with his evangelical Christianity, yet he opposes restrictions on the flood of corrupt campaign contributions into American politics; he has supported legislation allowing lobbyists to continue giving junkets, gifts, and other freebies to members of Congress; he opposes requirements that lobbyists should at least disclose how much money they are taking from whom to do what; and he was front-and-center and eager-as-a-beaver to give himself and his colleagues a pay raise in 1997.Among the stances taken by this “gentle grandfatherly figure” are to cut Medicare by $270 billion in order to pay for Newt’s promised tax breaks to the wealthy; allow oil corporations to get away with more pollution of our water; deny small shareholders the right to sue Wall Street firms that bilk them; and repeal the law requiring that food processors not put cancer-causing chemicals into their products.Anyone who enjoys the unanimous backing of Newt Gingrich, Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, and Dick Armey (not to mention a gleeful K-Street corridor of corporate lobbyists) deserves a healthy dose of skeptical scrutiny. Yet the media reaction is typified by The New York Times, which hailed Hastert as “a lumbering former high-school wrestling coach who brokers compromises and smooths out differences by bending ears, not breaking arms, without threats or rancor.” How benign. But for whom does Dennis Hastert lumber, broker, and bend ears – and at whose expense?


See if this sounds at all familiar to you: in a faraway land, a civil war has been raging for twenty years, pitting peasant rebels against the military of the ruling elites; our government, which sides with the elites, begins issuing propaganda demonizing the rebels, asserting that their insurgency is a threat to our national security; next, Washington begins providing military equipment to the ruling government; however, the rebels make big gains in the countryside, so Washington then dramatically escalates the shipment of arms to fight them, this time even sending Green Berets to train the troops of the elites.

This chronicle is not merely a flashback to our country’s involvement in the quagmire of Vietnam, but a chronicle of Washington’s recent moves to sink us ever deeper into a civil war in Colombia. Technically, the shipment of military equipment has been made in the name of the U.S. drug war, ostensibly enabling the Colombian military to destroy drug crops and root out drug dealers in the rugged countryside.

For example, we’re spending $6 million to upgrade the Colombian government’s crop fumigation planes. Sounds reasonable, since these planes are used to destroy the coca plants from which cocaine is made. But the upgrade is not in the spray power of these planes – instead, the $6 million is to mount machine guns on them.

In addition, $96 million is going to buy six Blackhawk helicopters, and $40 million more to arm thirty-four Huey helicopters with long range, high-powered machine guns. These are not for going after poor coca farmers, but for fighting rebel forces. Also, those Green Berets are not teaching coca fumigation techniques, but infantry skills, explosives, and ambush techniques. Our government is even building a military intelligence center in Colombia, feeding it information from our spy satellites.

Shouldn’t we be on the side of the peasants fighting for democracy, rather than pulling another Vietnam?

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts daily from Austin, on over 100 stations nationwide. His book, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos is available in paperback. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected].