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On the March Again

Michael J. Ring

Media firebrand Pat Buchanan announced last week his third run for the White House, and across the nation his Buchanan Brigade rattled their pitchforks in applause.

Much less enthusiastic about Buchanan’s third run around the track are political observers. Conventional wisdom says his time has passed, that the field is too crowded already, that his economic message will not resonate in the greatest postwar economy. For the third time in as many campaigns, conventional wisdom has underestimated the power of this man.

True, the Republican race for the nomination is a crowded one, and George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole, who have recently moved to set up exploratory committees, are the early stars in this race. And Buchanan has far from a monopoly on the religious right this time around, as New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith, family values activist Gary Bauer, and Mr. Potatoe Head, Dan Quayle, are all in the race.

But there are many factors favoring Buchanan’s side as well. Unlike Dole and Bush, he is battle-tested. Dole, a federal bureaucrat for the duration of her political career, has never held elective office. And we can hardly consider the gubernatorial victory of the Republican son of a Republican President in a Republican state to be a great triumph over electoral adversity.

Both Bush and Dole are ripe for a broadside at the hands of the Buchanan Brigade. Buchanan knows what to expect in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. And more importantly, he knows how to win -- remember his upset victory over Bob Dole in the Granite State primary in 1996.

Over the past twenty years, voters in the Republican presidential primaries have displayed a marked tendency to nominate a candidate who has previously run. Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bob Dole, the Republican nominees over the past five elections, had all run in previous presidential primaries before receiving their nominations. If this trend continues, Buchanan could certainly benefit.

But Buchanan’s ace-in-the-hole is his economic populism. On many of these issues he really isn’t a conservative at all. Buchanan does not cowtow at the altar of Wall Street or to the gods of the global economy. Instead he is a powerful voice for the American worker and laborer. Buchanan’s strength does not come from a horde of rabid social conservatives; instead he draws it from blue-collar workers, many of whom are traditional Democratic voters, fearful for their survival.

NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) has been a disaster for the American economy. Each year, more manufacturing jobs head south, never to return. A bonanza for big business, the trade agreement and other free-trade initiatives such as GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) have only amplified the exodus of heavy industry from this country to countries with abysmal environmental and workplace standards. Unemployment may be as low as two percent in many places nationwide, but ask Levi-Strauss workers if they’re benefiting from the red-hot economy.

Buchanan has been one of the most vociferous critics of the International Monetary Fund, and there is certainly much to criticize. In the past few years, over $130 billion has been thrown at Russia and Asia, and Brazil may be the next black hole. What has been done to change the structural weaknesses in those economies? Answers never seem to be forthcoming from the financial wizards. The least the government owes the people whose hard-earned tax dollars get shipped to the Crisis Country of the Week is an explanation -- and an expectation for results.

Buchanan’s strength is also always underestimated because few ever properly account for the support he receives from independents and Democrats. Besides winning the 1996 Republican primary in New Hampshire, Buchanan finished second to Clinton in the Democratic primary, as hundreds of blue-collar workers expressed their dissatisfaction with Clinton’s laissez-faire trade policies. From the aging, graying mill cities of New Hampshire to the Industrial burgs of the Rust Belt, Buchanan’s name is held in special awe and reverence. Buchanan fills a power vacuum, one that has been created by the Democratic Party’s abdication of its traditional economic values.

It used to be a Democrat who stood up for working people. A Democrat once protected American workers and American jobs. A Democrat would only seek foreign free trade agreements that were fair, that protected American workers and the global environment. But Slick Willie has sold us all out, and his understudy Al Gore will do the same if elected President. While political pundits try to downplay his candidacy, true experts will realize Pat Buchanan is once again a force to be reckoned with in the 2000 primary.

Only Pat Buchanan is addressing working-class issues of trade and globalization with solutions that are surprisingly Democratic. And as many prominent Democrats have deserted the working class, is it any surprise the working class is deserting Democrats? Look out America -- the Buchanan Brigade has mounted up and is riding to the sound of the guns.