Preview: Radio host Thom Hartmann says he's fighting for the middle class

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It doesn't require a political science degree or a former government post to get on the radio and dish about politics.

Credit, Post-Gazette
Thom Hartmann's latest book argues that the U.S. government has turned its back on the founding fathers' intentions of protecting the middle class from the aristocracy.
Click photo for larger image.

Thom Hartmann

Where: Borders, Monroeville.

When: 7 p.m. Friday.

Information: 412-374-9772.

On the right, Rush Limbaugh was a college dropout and a rock DJ, and Bill O'Reilly had a graduate degree in broadcast journalism before becoming a movie critic.

On the left, Thom Hartmann has an extensive and varied resume that includes a Ph.D. in homeopathic medicine and a license to practice psychotherapy, as well as being an expert in the field of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Hartmann is the author of 18 books, more than half of them on the subject of ADD. He is best known to the public as a voice for the left-leaning Air America, and his show is carried in Pittsburgh weekdays at noon on WPTT (1360 AM).

Hartmann's latest book is "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class -- And What We Can Do About It," which makes the case that our government has turned its back on our founding fathers' intentions of protecting the middle class from the aristocracy. As evidence, he points to the decrease in inflation-adjusted median household income between 2000 and 2004, the sharp decline in manufacturing jobs and the 45 million Americans living without health insurance.

"Increasingly, I'm seeing the middle class of America wiped out," Hartmann noted in an e-mail exchange from his home in Portland, Ore. "That, in and of itself, is a humanitarian problem. But, more importantly, it creates a political crisis, because in order for there to be a functioning democracy in this nation there must be a strong middle class. As the middle class vanishes and is replaced by the working poor and the indebted, political freedom is vanishing, too. America has historically been a beacon of democracy to the entire world -- literally the hope of the world, the 'American Dream' -- and if we don't recapture that, I'm concerned that the future of the entire world is at risk."

Those who listen to his show know that one thing Hartmann does not do is play the role of doomsayer. He's much more proactive and at the conclusion of the book, he lays out the steps that need to be taken to strengthen the middle class, including better public education, a national single-payer heath-care system and progressive taxation.

"We've been at the brink before -- once even nearly sliding off the brink with the Civil War -- and we've always pulled back toward democracy," he notes in the e-mail. "The Founders of our nation and the Framers of the Constitution did something really and truly brilliant. They created, quite literally, something that both had never before existed in an agricultural or industrialized nation, and something that could stand progressively taller and grow richly deeper throughout the ages. They created a constitutionally limited representative democratic republic. It was a great gift to the world and to humankind, and we must reclaim it."

"Screwed" isn't just one long screed against the Republican party. Hartmann writes that "Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. -- and 25 years of a largely 'conservative' (that is, 'con') Congress -- have quite literally sold off America in exchange for enough money to keep on buying consumer junk to stock the shelves of Wal-Mart and other 'value' retailers of foreign goods.' "

He puts "conservative" in quotes, making the distinction between the kind of Republican his father was and the kind he sees running the country today.

"I dedicate the book to my dad," he says, "and open it with his story, and he was a Republican until the day he died this past summer, and he loved the book when he read the galleys. Those Republicans who like it will be the ones, like my dad, who remember Eisenhower fondly, as a man who talked about peace a lot, who believed in balanced budgets and community, and who strongly supported progressive taxation and strong controls on corporate behavior and misbehavior."

On Friday, Hartmann will broadcast his show live from WPTT studios and will discuss his book and sign copies at the Borders in Monroeville. He says Pittsburgh, where he gets a big response, is a good place to send this message.

"It's a wonderful town and broadly representative of the middle class I'm speaking of in the book. It's the perfect city to be discussing the middle class, and as one of the earliest cities in America in one of the most important states to our early republic, the perfect place to be discussing the future of democracy. And because I've been on the air here, on WPTT, for a few years now, it's a place that feels pretty close to home to me."


Weekend Mag editor Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.


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