With his fiery oratory and his guerrilla campaign, Pat Buchanan continues to be a major factor in an increasingly bloody Republican Presidential race. BUSINESS WEEK Washington Bureau Chief Lee Walczak caught up with Buchanan on Feb. 27 in Arizona and got a firsthand glimpse of the two-fisted commentator's unusual blend of free-market economics and blue-collar populism.
Q: Isn't campaigning on the plight of blue-collar workers a bit of a stretch for a pro-business Republican?
A: I'm still pro-business. I was a resolute free-trader in Ronald Reagan's White House. I was the strongest supporter of his vetoes of bills calling for quotas on [foreign] shoes and textiles. But gradually, I came to see that the U.S. share of the world manufacturing base was diminishing. You visit factories, you talk to workers, and you see the consequences of the policies we recommended. And you see that just as there are big winners in these trade deals, there are losers. All over America, there are losers in the millions.
Q: So Republicans share the blame?
A: Indeed we do. During the cold war, we allowed Japan complete access to our markets without demanding access to theirs. We opened up our market to people whose wages were much lower than those of Americans, and often jobs were lost. These trade policies have contributed to the social problems of the U.S.
Q: Are you questioning the premise that the push into the global marketplace raises U.S. living standards?
A: I agree with [U.S. Trade Representative] Mickey Kantor when he says that $1 billion in exports equals 20,000 jobs, and when you're running close to a $200 billion merchandise trade deficit, you're talking about 4 million lost jobs every year. You're talking about the deindustrialization of America, the export of our factories and manufacturing base, and you're talking about increasing America's dependence on foreign countries, even for necessities. I don't think the U.S. should be dependent on foreign countries for anything. My objectives are a thriving economy--not a soaring Dow Jones.
Q: But wouldn't the huge tariffs you propose amount to a heavy tax increase on the very workers you champion?
A: My critics are disingenuous, or they are mistaken. Every single dime we get in tariff revenues, which are consumption taxes on foreign goods, would go to cut taxes for American business and workers. Look, the entire Republic was run on tariff revenues during its first 14 decades, and the country grew from an agricultural republic of 3 million to the mightiest industrial power on earth, where our workers made two or three times what workers overseas made.
Q: O.K., Pat Buchanan is in the White House, and AT&T cuts 40,000 jobs. What do you do?
A: I think you can use the bully pulpit, but there's not a great deal you can do. We've got to start cutting tax rates and deregulating business, especially small businesses, so they can pick up these workers that Big Business is lopping off. Small business is creating the jobs. Big businesses are like the animals in Jurassic Park.
Q: Sounds like the carrot-and-stick approach advocated by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. Could Pat Buchanan back such proposals?
A: We've got to take a look at the whole problem rather than these little teeny ad-hoc solutions. You need the lowest overall tax rates on investment, savings, and income of any Western industrial country. So you tell those foreigners--foreign folks--build your factory here, and you can take home more money. My trade and tariff policies would tell corporations, in effect, if you shut down in the USA and move your auto plant to Mexico, it isn't going to be that easy to get your products back into the U.S.
Q: How would your immigration curbs boost the take-home pay of workers?
A: If you tighten the labor market, wages will rise. It's simple economics. What's happened is we've got 25 [million] to 30 million legal and illegal immigrants in the country--hard-working people--almost all of whom will work for less than Americans. So you have a constant downward pressure on wages.
Q: House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his Third-Wave Republicans are very bullish on the Information Age's potential to lift incomes...
A: I'm not hostile to that idea. I am very much for America being first in everything. All I'm saying is, look friends, we've got a huge slice of America that is not sharing the prosperity, that is not going to be working with computers. It's going to be working with its hands, tools, and machines. We've got a lot of Second-Wave Americans. What are you going to do with them? You can't throw them on a trash heap as though they were used-up machinery. These are fellow Americans.
Q: Then do you agree with Democrats who say that the answer to some of this dislocation is more worker training?
A: Federal job training is ridiculous. The federal government doesn't train people for jobs in the real world. The best jobs program is a good job. The private sector is going to train people for the jobs of the future, because they know where they're coming from.
Q: Your base seems to be about a third of the GOP primary vote. How can you win unless you expand that support?
A: How did we do it in Louisiana? We beat [Texas Senator] Phil Gramm clean and clear with 58%. You get to a two-man race, and we're going to win.
Q: Some historians see certain parallels between you and Senator Joseph McCarthy, another populist concerned about nationalism and morality...
A: The Tailgunner? McCarthy, who was one of my father's heroes, made the core of his message anti-Communism, that was his cutting issue. I remember it as a little boy. But mine is different. Mine is an economic populism and a traditionalism, and it's not rooted in the Cold War. The roots go back to a more traditional American foreign policy, which is to stay out of wars that are none of our business; to avoid the kinds of foreign entanglements that tie us into every conflict that comes up; stop squandering our wealth on foreign aid; downsize the government.
Q: When you criticize the New World Order, New York bankers, and Goldman Sachs, that upsets some people...
A: I know it does...
Q: Do you also know that they see overtones of anti-Semitism in these code words?
A: For heaven's sakes, the New World Order is about the U.N., the WTO, the World Court, the IMF, the World Bank. And many of my friends, who are devout Jewish-Americans, don't want this country to surrender an iota of its sovereignty to global institutions of world government. As for Citibank and Chase Manhattan, to my knowledge they are run by WASPs to the core--David Rockefeller, for heaven's sakes.
Q: Union officials wonder how you can be a working-class hero and still oppose a higher minimum wage, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, and the Davis-Bacon Act.
A: The boys in Bal Harbour do not love me, but we are doing fine with working men and women. The minimum wage in Mexico was 58 cents an hour before devaluation. Raise the minimum wage in the U.S., and you cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder for many Americans and you encourage more manufacturing plants to move to Mexico. I'm not going to do away with OSHA. But if OSHA inspectors are wandering around farms hassling people, they oughtn't to be doing that. I'm not against reasonable regulation. We're going to deregulate small business, but we're not going to let people put filth in our rivers and air again.
Q: Exit polls of your supporters say they don't think you can beat Bill Clinton. What's your response?
A: You prove that you can win by winning. But let me tell you something: The reason that we are surging in the polls is because those people who agree with Buchanan are saying, "Wait a minute. Maybe he can win." If I get the nomination, I can beat Clinton.