"We kept seeing these ordinary folks who were doing really extraordinary things in business, in politics, in health care, in banking, in food economy--in all aspects of our society," says Hightower, who will be in Tucson next week to raise money for the Pima County Democratic Party. "We thought we should tell some of these stories."
The result is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, which profiles Americans who are finding success while still living their progressive values. Success, says Hightower, is a key element to the equation.
"You can't have a progressive movement without hope and without some successes to show people," Hightower says. "Nobody is going to hang in there in a hopeless situation. That's the real reason we wrote this book. Too many progressives, for too long, especially through the Bush years, have been hang-dog dejected and feeling the end is near. Or in the case of the Bush White House, that the end is not near, that this will never end."
Hightower says the theme of the book is summed up by a famous quote from Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
"That seemed to be the spirit of not just a few folks, but a growing segment of our population who were defying the corporate order and bucking the system and living their progressive values," says Hightower, who places a high value on challenging the status quo.
"Without people bucking the system, we'd all be wearing powdered wigs and singing 'God Save the Queen,'" he says. "America was built on agitation, built on rebels, and there's a constant need in a Democratic society for people to reject the forces of conformity."
When the Weekly talked to Hightower just a few months after George W. Bush was sworn into office in 2001, he predicted that the new administration was going to be disastrous. But Hightower says that W. has far exceeded his expectations.
"He took disaster to new and unexpected heights--unimaginable heights," says Hightower.
Raised in Denison, Texas, in a family of tenant farmers, truck drivers and railroad men, Hightower would serve two terms as Texas agricultural commissioner, as a Democrat. Since leaving office in 1991, Hightower has, at different times, hosted radio shows, written books (including the New York Times best-seller Thieves in High Places), toured the country and penned the syndicated newspaper column that appears in the Weekly.
His lefty leanings haven't stopped him from being critical of Democrats. In the wake of Al Gore's loss to Bush, Hightower complained that the party had sold out to Wall Street and global corporations. But he's warmed up to the party a little over the last seven years, saying that things have begun to change for Democrats, albeit slowly.
"There are still too many of the corporate Democrats who don't like taking on NAFTA and the globaloney that they represent," Hightower says. "They want to be friends with the investment banks and the CEOs. There's still too much of that, but they are changing."
Hightower says he's supporting Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential race, but he could live with Hillary Clinton as the nominee. He says the ongoing primary battle isn't as bad for Democrats as some folks suggest.
"I don't agree with the pundits who are trying to write this up as a catastrophe for the Democratic Party," Hightower says. "I think that the Democratic Party will come back together. People are ready for a big change in Washington, and John McCain is not that change."
Hightower says McCain promises to extend the Bush policies, especially when it comes to tax cuts for corporations and America's wealthiest citizens.
"We have not yet lifted the McCain log, and if you lift the McCain log, there's a lot of ugly squirmies down under there," Hightower says. "And I'm not talking about personal behavior. I'm talking about his servitude to corporate interests. The notion that he's going to be the common man's friend and take on the special interests is nonsense."
Eight years ago, Hightower was not among those who criticized Ralph Nader for helping Bush win the White House, preferring to blame Al Gore for failing to excite voters.
But this year, he thinks Nader is "doing the wrong thing" by vowing to run for president, though Hightower understands that Nader believes he can raise issues that the mainstream candidates will not address.
"He's right about that, but he misunderstands the nature of this election, which is not about this issue or that issue or all those issues over there," Hightower says. "Rather, it's about a transformation in direction and attitude--and that, to me, is what Obama represents."