|BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : SEPTEMBER 25, 2000 ISSUE|
On the Right: Buchanan's Last Stand?
Reform Party candidate Patrick J. Buchanan offers voters a stark contrast to the agendas of Al Gore and George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential race. The populist social conservative rails against immigration and free-trade deals that, he says, drive down wages and export jobs. Buchanan also lashes out at big corporations for caring too much about profits and too little about workers.
A former aide to Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan, Buchanan has run for the White House twice before. As a Republican in 1996, he snagged some early primary victories that rattled the GOP establishment. This time around, Buchanan is getting less traction. Hobbled by internal strife in the Reform Party and two gall-bladder surgeries, the pugnacious pundit has languished in the polls. But buoyed by the prospect of $12.6 million in federal campaign funds, Buchanan is off on the hustings again. Business Week correspondents Richard B. Dunham and Amy Borrus spoke with him in his colonial-style home in McLean, Va., on Sept. 11. Here, in edited excerpts, is an extended version of a Q&A with Buchanan that appears in the Sept. 25 issue of Business Week magazine:
Q: Despite the booming economy, a Business Week/Harris Poll finds most Americans believe corporations wield too much power. What accounts for the ambivalence toward business in a time of prosperity?
A: There's a feeling that giant corporations no longer give a hoot about Americans or the country. They'll shut down a factory here and open it up in Malaysia or China. Corporations are less and less rooted in the community and in the country.
Q: Is it because corporations are too focused on profits?
A: There's no doubt it's profit uber alles. Stock options. Executive pay. And this whole idea of "Chainsaw Al" [Dunlap, the former CEO of Sunbeam] and the other executives who make their bones by how many employees they are able to lay off.
Q: How successful has Al Gore been in co-opting this anti-corporate message?
A: His success is due in part to Mr. Bush's abdication of the issue and the fact that I've been out of action [because of gall-bladder surgery]. And clearly, Mr. Gore recognizes his own party's estrangement from working men and women. There's no one out there now holding Gore accountable for NAFTA, GATT, and [expanding trade ties with China], which workers despise.
Q: If you are excluded from the debates, what issues won't we hear about?
A: I believe in economic patriotism, as opposed to economic globalism. The first purpose of an economy is to prosper the country and its people. You measure success of an economy not by how well its wealthier people are doing but by how well the working and middle class are doing. U.S. trade and tax policy should be designed to give working men and women the highest standard of living on this earth.
You've got two parties that believe in global interdependence.... We see now with the OPEC cartel that that comes with a price. So that in the Asian meltdown, where the Thai currency collapses and all of a sudden it rips all around Asia, sinking the Asian economies. It takes down Russia, it takes down Brazil. It even threatens the financial house of the U.S. I believe in having bulkheads in a global economy so that if you take a torpedo in one economy it doesn't sink the whole ship. Economic globalism believes in removing [the bulkheads].
Q: How would your energy policy differ from that of President Clinton in a similar situation?
A: Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore have undertaken a preemptive strike on Microsoft, which is a national asset. And they're determined to smash and break it up. As far as I can see, Mr. Gates's principal crime is trying to give me a free browser. If you want to break up a cartel, why does the U.S. not break up [OPEC]?
How would you break it up? First, a number of countries -- Algeria, Ecuador, Nigeria, Venezuela, and one or two others that collaborate with the cartel -- are beneficiaries of IMF loans. Cut those off. Mexico, which we bailed out with $50 billion, has colluded with the cartel to hold oil off the market. I would put a $10-a-barrel tariff on goods coming in from Mexico.... Third, you open up the outer continental shelf. You call in the Saudis, Kuwaitis, and other gulf states and say, "You folks, whom we defended and rescued, are conspiring to drive up the price of oil and gouge American consumers. You pump exactly this much more oil in the next three months or the American fleet is going home.''
Q: How would your trade policy differ from that of President Clinton?
A: With the patterns of trade that you've got right now, you don't want to do anything to radically disrupt them. But you've got a merchandise trade deficit that could hit $450 billion this year and a current-account deficit that is over 4% of [gross domestic product]. That is not sustainable. I would put a 10% revenue tariff on all manufactured goods imported into the U.S. That would get you $1 trillion in 10 years. Add that to the $2 trillion [federal] surplus, and use that to uproot the entire tax code and introduce a consumption tax and reduce taxes on investment and savings. With that $3 trillion revenue, you would eliminate taxes for small businesses and minority businesses. Eliminate taxes on inheritance and gift taxes. A tremendous amount of capital would come into the country. Revise the income tax code to 10[%], 20[%], 30[%], which would give the U.S. the lowest tax rates in the Western industrialized world. You could have a 50% exclusion for capital gains.... That would give the U.S. a tax code that is competitive with every industrialized country in the West.
Q: How would you manage trade relations with China?
A: The Chinese this year will sell us $80 billion, and they will buy perhaps $13 billion. That will be the largest trade deficit of any country with the U.S. They're selling us seven times what they're buying from us. And they believe in managed trade. What you've got to do with them is say, "You're going to buy this much. You're going to buy this and this and this, or we'll put a surtax on your goods." ...We've got the whip hand with China. There's nothing China sells us that we can't buy elsewhere in Asia or in Mexico, or right here in the U.S.
Q: With regard to the push to increase the number of H-1B temporary visas for foreign high-tech workers, and generally, how would you reshape immigration policy?
A: H-1Bs are a betrayal of America's young people. Those of us who believe in economic patriotism were told, "Look, don't worry about the textile jobs. They're going away. We're all into high tech." Now they say, "We're all into high tech, and we're going abroad to find the workers." We ought to tell Silicon Valley: "You're making a lot of money. You're going to hire bright young Americans and train them. If you have to raise salaries a bit, that's how the free market works...." People will compete for workers. When they don't have enough, they automate, invest in technologies, and raise wages.
This [Mexican President-elect] Vincente Fox plan [for the U.S. to open its borders to more Mexican workers] is the end of the U.S. You'll get impoverished Mexicans pouring into the U.S.... It will be dog-eat-dog competition for service jobs, from mowing lawns to washing cars. It will drive down the competition for wages for working people, while the very wealthy will be able to hire more people to take care of their lawns.
Q: Would you reappoint Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve?
A: I like Alan Greenspan, and the truth is, if anyone deserves the credit, responsibility, or blame for what has happened with the economy since the mid-1980s in this country, Greenspan deserves credit. It's hard to fault his performance.
Q: In 1968, George Wallace said there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Is there a dime's worth of difference between Al Gore and George Bush?
A: Both political parties are controlled by establishments funded by the same corporate sources.... It is really like professional wrestling. American elections are a fraud and a scam. The American people are told to cheer for one side or the other. But late at night, you find the two wrestlers sharing a beer.
The Republican Party basically is a Clinton party. It has embraced Clinton politics and policies while it deplores Clinton's character. This is why we want to build a new party. Whether it's me or not, it's coming. One American party, a future great party, is going to believe in economic patriotism, bringing troops home from occupation duties in wars where we have no business, securing America's borders, reducing government at the federal level, lowering taxes. And it's going to be traditionalist and conservative.
Q: Bush has called himself a different kind of Republican and a compassionate conservative. What do you make of that claim?
A: That reminds me of George Bush Sr. who, in 1988, said: "We want a kinder and gentler Administration." Kinder and gentler than whom? In other words, "We are not Ronald Reagan." The whole theme of the Republican Convention was, ''We are not conservatives." The truth is they're Dewey-Rockefeller-Wendell Wilkie-Bush Republicans.
Q: Is Bush either an economic or a social conservative? And does he have the right stuff to be President?
A: His theme is "any way you want me." He will do what he has to do. He will say what he has to say. He's a likable guy. But the Republican Party has never nominated a candidate who brings fewer cards to the table in terms of experience, knowledge, and wisdom than George W. Bush.
Q: What do you think Bush's strategy is?
A: It's basically that the country wants to continue the policies and direction it's [had] but doesn't want to continue Clinton and Gore because it's sick of that soap opera... What they're offering is continued policies but fresh faces. The trouble is, Gore [did] well with [Vice-Presidential candidate Senator Joseph I.] Lieberman.
Q: Bush calls himself an underdog.
A: He's a $250 million underdog.
Q: Would Bush conduct foreign policy differently from Gore?
A: The differences are marginal. We had a golden opportunity in 1989. We fought 40 years of cold war. Suddenly the Red Army walks home.... You should have at that point said, "It is now time for the Europeans to undertake the defense of Europe." Bring all of the American forces out of Europe and Asia and use American naval and air power to sustain your commitment.... What are we doing on the [Korean] DMZ 50 years after the Korean War? The cold war ended but the cold-war mentality endures. NATO has become a jobs program for American generals.
Q: Given the undercurrent of anti-corporate sentiment in America, why are you languishing in the polls? Are Ralph Nader and even Al Gore siphoning off some supporters with anti-corporate rhetoric?
A: If I were given the same media coverage for my ideas that Bush and Gore were given, and if I were fully participating in three or five debates, I believe we could turn it into a three-way race. But if people don't even know you're in the race, as they don't now, we simply can't. The national media hold life-or-death power over any third party.
Ralph's not stealing this message. He and I fought together against GATT, fast track, the China trade deal, and in the streets of Seattle. Gore is smart in the sense that he realizes the rank-and-file members know they're being sold out. Gore is reaching toward them rhetorically.... And given the size of the microphone he's got, he's probably bringing some of them home from Nader and reaching some of the folks I got in places like Wisconsin in 1996. But Bush isn't reaching for them at all.
Q: If the Federal Election Commission gives you $12.6 million in campaign funds, how will you use it to your best advantage?
A: Bush is writing off Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Minnesota. You clearly go into those states and say, "Any of you conservative Republicans think I'm stealing votes, I'm not. They're gone. They've written you off. Help us build something new in the real conservative tradition." Secondly, you go into places where I've been strong before: Wisconsin, Michigan, parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Then you go across north Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Frankly, I'd like to go back to Alaska -- it's a very independent state.... California, Arizona on the illegal immigration issue is red-hot. And the Mountain States are naturally conservative and independent.
Q: Are you surprised that many fellow social conservatives aren't standing with you?
A: None of them supported me in 1992 but all agreed with my criticism of George Bush. But they're scared to death. They want to go with a winner.
Q: Is economic prosperity making it hard to get your message across?
A: There's no doubt the perception that -- no matter the trade deficit, no matter the jobs going overseas -- everybody's working, who cares? It makes it more difficult to get your message through. But a lot of people have anxiety about their jobs. Why rock the boat?
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht
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On the Right: Buchanan's Last Stand? (extended)
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