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Buchanan--When Left Meets Right

February 29, 1996|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — Grinning Democrats in California's Capitol have been tracking Pat Buchanan and parroting "Go Pat Go."

It's not just that they're pulling for Pitchfork Pat because they think he'd make a terrific punching bag as the Republican presidential nominee. They are, although as Assembly Democratic strategist Bill Cavala says, "the guy with a message always makes me nervous."

No, the real reason they're quietly rooting for Buchanan is that they love it when a Republican talks dirty about big business.

They can't get enough of his patter about "corporate butchers" and "greedy transnationals" that "are like creatures in 'Jurassic Park.' "

Buchanan's bellicosity lends credence to the Democrats' complaints about declining wages and massive layoffs. He helps rile blue-collar workers and middle-class managers, and unite them against the CEOs and GOP politicians like Pete Wilson. He adds fuel to the fire of worker discontent and fans class warfare.

Not that every Democrat agrees with Buchanan's protectionist trade policies or wants to junk NAFTA and GATT. Most do not. But many pols of both parties suspect the average wage earner tunes out the trade details and fastens on Buchanan's charismatic condemnation of corporate America and call to worker arms.

"A Democrat couldn't talk like that," says Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles). "He'd be called a liberal."

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State Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) talks like that. Of course, he's an archliberal and presumably the antithesis of most everything Buchanan stands for.

"Why is this happening in the Republican Party?" Hayden asks rhetorically. "Do they always have to legitimize left-wing ideas? Nixon went to China. Now Buchanan attacks corporations."

Hayden says he uses the pejorative "pirates" rather than "corporate butchers." A pirate, he notes, is "a person who doesn't have loyalty to any country and roams the seas looking for the easiest victim to prey on."

That has a ring of Buchanan-esque: "We must stop sacrificing American jobs on the alters of transnational corporations whose sole loyalty is to the bottom line."

Hayden and Buchanan both attack the influence of corporate special interests. "The real incomes of American workers have fallen 20% in 20 years," the candidate laments. "Why are our people not realizing the fruits of their labor? We have a government . . . that does not listen anymore to the forgotten men and women who work in the factories and plants and businesses. We have, instead, a government that is too busy taking the phone calls from lobbyists for foreign countries and the corporate contributors of the Fortune 500."

Says Hayden: "That sounds like it's been lifted directly from my writings or Ralph Nader's."

Hayden and Buchanan agree that NAFTA and GATT are bad for American workers; the trade pacts have suppressed wages and cost jobs.

Left meets right. And most GOP legislators and business lobbyists can hardly believe their eyes and ears.

"Buchanan's our worst nightmare," says one powerful business representative, declining to be identified. Says another: "He's the No. 1 FOB--Friend of Bill. Buchanan helped get Clinton elected in the first place and it appears he's going to help him get reelected."

GOP operative Tony Quinn says, "The greatest threat to Republicans is that Buchanan is gouging the underbelly of middle-class discontent."

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Buchanan had his worse day of the race on Tuesday, so nobody can safely predict how long he'll survive as a magnet for news media attention. But as of now, if you're a Democratic strategist, it doesn't get much better than when the leading conservative in the GOP presidential field keeps singing your song about "the forgotten worker."

It meshes nicely with three pro-labor projects Democrats now are pushing in the Capitol.

At rallies here and in downtown Los Angeles, they've galvanized many thousands of construction workers to protest Gov. Wilson's efforts to cut the "prevailing wage" on public works projects. In the state Senate, they're trying to kill legislation passed by Assembly Republicans to eliminate the requirement that nonunion workers be paid overtime after eight-hour shifts. On the streets, they're collecting signatures for a proposed November ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage from $4.25 per hour to $5.75 by 1998.

Buchanan's position on the minimum wage is conventional Republican: Leave it alone.

That's all right. Democrats can forgive him for that. Just keep arousing the working class, Pat, with that nasty talk about "corporate greed."

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