Posted by: exiwp | August 9, 1999

Why I’m Backing Patrick Buchanan (1999)

By Lenora Fulani (1999)

My endorsement last week of Pat Buchanan for the Reform Party presidential nomination set up a news cycle of incredulity over our political alliance. In some cases, the disbelief was so extreme as to make it appear that Buchanan and I are from different planets, rather than different ideological backgrounds. We are not, however, from different planets. We’re from the same one, and it’s facing a set of economic problems and challenges so great that the left/right differential can seem like a hill of beans in comparison.

“Aha!” you say. Just as I thought! She’s an economic determinist. A classic socialist! In some respects I suppose I am. But Pat Buchanan? Hardly. Yet, he pointed out at our joint press conference, “The great goal of social justice is not being served in America today by this economy and the way it is functioning. I don’t believe we ought to take away the money or the wealth of those who have earned it legitimately. But I do believe the disparities in income in this country are becoming too great. They’re becoming outrageous, and that is not healthy. They are far greater in this society than any other democracy or democratic republic on earth. That is not healthy.”

Those disparities are unhealthy. Ten percent of America’s households own 80 percent of the country’s private wealth, leaving 20 percent of the nation’s wealth distributed among the bottom 90 percent of the population. But worse than unhealthy, they are intrinsic to the current course of globalization and financialization of the world economy as long as special interests control U.S. economic and trade policy. Pat Buchanan and I are not the only right/left partners to observe this.

The anti-NAFTA movement was propelled by a “strange bedfellows” coalition of conservative, centrist, and progressive economic populists. So was the anti-Fast Track movement which muscled Congress into rejecting the process (authorizing the president to negotiate trade deals with only an up or down vote by Congress) along with its predatory product (trade deals that boosted the profiteering of multinational corporations at the expense of American jobs and international labor and environmental standards).

But what exactly is the solution? Conservative economic nationalists like Buchanan believe we need “tax and trade policies that put America before the global economy.” On the other end of the political spectrum progressive economists, who see the corrosive effects of globalism much in the way conservatives do, argue for a different approach. William Greider wrote in The Nation that globalization “has to be slowed down, not stopped, and redirected on a new course of development that is more moderate and progressive, that promises broader benefits to almost everyone.” Greider comments on the wide disparity in wealth adding, “When rising incomes are broadly distributed, it creates mass purchasing power — fueling a virtuous cycle of growth, savings and new investment. When incomes are narrowly distributed, as they are now, the economic system feeds upon itself, eroding its own energies for expansion, burying consumers and business, even governments, in impossible accumulations of debt.”

How to address what Greider calls this “pathological” state of the U.S. economy and what Buchanan calls the “betrayal” of the American worker? Progressives argue for shifting the tax burden from labor to capital, restructuring trade terms to balance the flow of commerce, raising wages at the low end of the pay scale, forgiving the bad debts of poorer nations, reforming the mission of central banks to support growth rather than “thwarting” it and refocusing national priorities on creating jobs and improving wages — rather than on multi-national competitiveness as the key to prosperity. Greider, in particular, appeals to the liberal notion that government must act responsibly to cure the pathology.

Buchanan’s view of the issues are not altogether different, though he does not concede the inevitability of globalization. He favors a fairer tax code that relies on a national sales tax rather than income tax, a 15 percent tariff on foreign products that compete with U.S. goods and a “wage equalization tariff on manufactures from low wage countries.” He supports an increase in the minimum wage and his goals include “full employment, with our working people as well compensated and rewarded as any on earth,” and “a wider, deeper distribution of property and prosperity.”

Buchanan does not, however, appeal directly to a notion of the innate responsibility of government. He projects that he wants to play hardball with our trading partners to eliminate the burgeoning U.S. trade deficit. He often uses China, or as Pat likes to emphasize, “Communist China,” as an example. Beijing imposes on average a 22 percent tariff on U.S. imports (just reduced to 17 percent by the new trade pact) while Washington imposes none in return. But the problem isn’t what China is up to. They’re doing what any nation — communist or capitalist — must do to gain advantage in the highly competitive global marketplace. The problem for the American people is that U.S. Big Business wants access to a billion Chinese consumers whose spending power is being enhanced by China’s trade surplus. And business is willing to have us endure the downsides of a trade deficit in order to get it.

The American people currently have no way to bring the U.S.-based transnationals to heel. Right now these special interests control the two parties that control our government. Labor pipes up every now and then — usually at election time — to demand things like restrictions on the import of foreign steel. But the AFL-CIO hooked its wagon to capital over 50 years ago, and consequently will not buck its two-party duopoly.

The rank and file, the unorganized (85 percent of the workforce) and the unemployed are not automatically so inclined. This is Buchanan’s and my constituency. It is multi-racial, male and female, urban and rural, and it is significantly disempowered under the current political arrangement. Buchanan hopes to sell them on the need to play hardball. I do, too. My difference with Buchanan, however, is that I think they need to play hardball — not with China, per se — but with the two parties and with special interest politics. How? By insisting on participating more directly in the policy-making and governmental process. How do we accomplish that? By a surgical reform of America’s electoral and political process that brings voter participation up, incumbency advantage down, and shifts decision making to the grassroots through the use of democratic forms like initiative and referendum and national town hall meetings.

The American people need more political capital. They should have the power to more directly set the terms for trade, taxes, and national economic priorities.

Buchanan’s decision to leave the Republican Party and join up with the Reform Party and me is one indicator that he is now willing to turn the tables on the special interests.

Turning the decision-making over to the American people is the next step. If we do something about the democracy disparity between the elites and ordinary citizens, the country will be on its way to effecting policies which close the gap between rich and poor as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: