Quoth the Ravens: Four more years

The ravens have come home to roost in the Republican Party. Just listen to the croaking!

Patrick Buchanan's righteous coalition of evangelical Christians and distressed blue-collar workers already has, as of this writing, fouled the GOP's nests in Alaska, Louisiana, Iowa and New Hampshire and has seized momentum leading into the crucial March primaries.

Bob Dole figured to have the nomination pretty much wrapped up when the polls closed in New Hampshire. Now he is heading into March with multiple lacerations and a newfound appreciation of the discontent that many Americans feel about the economy. And the news media has discovered that there is a populist movement in the Heartland today, even if Buchanan represents its dark side.

There is popular unrest, whether it is a reaction to jobs moving overseas or to industry importing foreign nationals to work in domestic plants.

Buchanan won in rural Buena Vista County, Iowa, with voters who might agree with Buchanan's conservative views on social issues, but they also blame IBP, Inc. for bringing in Mexican and Southeast Asian immigrants to work in the local slaughterhouse, placing a strain on local schools and welfare programs.

In Dubuque, a heavily Catholic, Democratic, blue-collar union town on the Mississippi River that has lost much of its industrial base over the past 20 years, officials reportedly ran out of registration cards for Democrats re-registering as Republicans for the caucuses.

Meanwhile, back at the clubhouse, Republican leaders who for years have played the race card, deplored abortion and courted Bubbas and right-wing evangelical churchgoers at no cost to their free-market ideals, now are horrified to hear one of their own talking about cultural wars, outlawing abortion, protecting American industry and implementing retaliatory tariffs.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of all people, started putting out the word that Buchanan's candidacy could bring down the Republican majority in the House while Majority Whip Tom DeLay described Buchanan as being from "another planet." DeLay reiterated at the French American Chamber of Commerce that the GOP stands for free trade and open markets [no matter who it hurts].

Democrats were delighted at the mischief Buchanan is doing to the GOP's country clubbers, but the polls clearly showed the economy and jobs were the top concern of voters, who have no reason to be any more confident in Bill Clinton's accomplishments on that score.

Georgia Gilbert, 48, a housewife from seaside Portsmouth, N.H., told Michael A. Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times: "As the dream of upward mobility for the middle class disappears, you can point your finger a lot of places. Concern for jobs going overseas is great here. Pat nailed that one before the ink was dry on NAFTA."

Duke University historian Lawrence Goodwyn told the Times, "[Buchanan] is addressing a common strain that affects the 65 percent of the population whose incomes have declined in real terms over the last 20 years." Goodwyn also noted that Buchanan's success came on largely unplowed ground. "He's filling a vacuum that exists in both parties. There wouldn't be room for Pat Buchanan to make this kind of hay in the FDR era because those people were being addressed by FDR."

While the news media has discovered that there is a populist movement in the land, they are likely to draw the wrong meanings. In an analysis of Buchanan's appeal in the February Atlantic Monthly, Steven Stark writes that populism can be defined as a "powerful mass movement, somewhat out of the political mainstream."

I would argue that it is the political establishment that has moved out of the mainstream, as is evidenced when more than half the voting age population elects not to cast a ballot. If the left fails to revive a progressive populist movement, and if the center refuses to address the concerns of working people, they can only recoil at the sort of populism Buchanan would lead.

But Buchanan's campaign is not, as historian Michael Kazin reportedly suggested, "the culmination of 100 years of populism." Rather, it is the result of a generation's neglect of populism.

Still, there are some affirmative choices for progressive populists: California members of the Green Party have a progressive populist alternative candidate for President in Ralph Nader, the consumer activist (and Progressive Populist columnist) who has allowed his name to be placed on the March 26 Green Party ballot. For more information call the Committee to Draft Ralph Nader at 510-444-7336.

After that, for now, the progressive populist opportunities are pretty much confined to the Democratic Party. But there are good progressives and/or populists running for the House and Senate in Democratic primaries. They should not be overlooked.

The hottest prospect is John Bryant, the Dallas congressman who is the frontrunner in the March 12 Texas Democratic primary race to challenge Sen. Phil Gramm. Bryant, a certified progressive populist, is faces John Odam, a progressive Houston lawyer, and Rep. Jim Chapman, a centrist. Gramm is considered vulnerable, although Democrats wish he would have spent a little more of his campaign treasury in places far removed from the Lone Star State.

Other states where progressive Democrats could take Senate seats now held by Republicans include:

-- Colorado, where either Denver lawyer Tom Strickland or Denver City Councilwoman Ramona Martinez would be an improvement over retiring Sen. Hank Brown;

-- Kansas, where Republican Rep. Pat Roberts is presumed to be the frontrunner for the seat Nancy Kassebaum is giving up but Democratic state Treasurer Sally Thompson and Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, a former congressman, are interested;

-- Kentucky, where former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear and former congressman Tom Barlow are in a race to challenge Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell;

-- Maine, which is up for grabs with Sen. William Cohen's retirement and Democratic former Gov. Joe Brennan is an early favorite;

-- South Dakota, where Democratic Rep. Tim Johnson has the best shot at knocking off a Republican incumbent in Sen. Larry Pressler.

-- Wyoming, where former Secretary of State Kathy Karpan, who lost a 1994 race for governor, is considered the frontrunner for the seat Alan Simpson is giving up.

In New Mexico, Republican Sen. Pete Domenici is heavily favored by the pros, although former Gov. Tony Anaya and Attorney General Tom Udall are among the Democrats considering a challenge.

In North Carolina, polls show Jesse Helms is vulnerable, with the main question being whether Democrats should put up former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who is black and narrowly lost to Helms in 1990, or opt for Charlie Sanders, a white businessman, in the May 7 primary.

History shows Helms will fight dirty whomever the Democrats put up against him; North Carolina should vote for progress and elect Harvey Gantt.

Republicans will be targeting Max Baucus of Montana, John Kerry of Massachusetts and a bona fide populist in Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who gets a rematch with former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz. Those Democrats may be more or less progressive and populist, but you can darn well be sure they will be more so than their Republican counterparts. - J.C.

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