It's the top issue on today's agenda, and the facts are not in dispute. "The average worker's weekly wage has fallen 18 percent since 1972," the candidate told reporters just the other day. "Sixty percent of U.S. families made less in 1994 than in 1979, taking inflation into account. Meanwhile, the richest 5 percent enjoyed a 40 percent increase in income." he said.
Yes, it is the economy, stupid.
After the Loose Buchanan struck pay dirt in New Hampshire, Bob Dole, the darling of mainstream Vermont Republicans, sheepishly conceded that up until then he didn't realize jobs and the economy were that important to folks. Hello? Anybody home?
"Bob Dole is living in another world," the candidate accurately pointed out. "The bottom line is that, for ordinary people and the middle class, the economy stinks. The confusion is, the economy is doing very, very well for upper-income people. Corporate profits are soaring. The stock market is at an all-time high. The CEOs who are laying off hundreds of thousands of American workers now earn over 200 times what the average worker earns. That's the reality."
This winter that viewpoint has struck a chord across America as Republicans jockey for the right to take on President Bill Clinton. But the fact of the matter is, those views are nothing new to the Green Mountains. You see, the candidate quoted above is not the conservative Washington talk-show host who worked in the White House under both Nixon and Reagan. The candidate quoted isn't running for President this year. He's running for reelection to Congress. Those are the words of Vermont's three-term incumbent U.S. Congressman Bernie Sanders. Who would have thought Bernie and Pat Buchanan would one day harmonize like the Everly Brothers?
"Buchanan thinks NAFTA has been a disaster for the American worker. I agree," said Sanders last week. "He thinks that our trade policy is wrong. I agree."
Sanders is obviously relishing the fact that finally, after decades of beating the bushes in an often lonely crusade against the "Big Monied Interests" and "Corporate America," there's an echo on the national political stage, albeit a less-than-perfect echo.
"I'm delighted that an issue I have been talking about for a number of years," said Ol' Bernardo, "is now beginning slowly to surface in national discussion." He loves the message, but can't stomach the messenger.
"When you see the failure of the two-party system and of President Clinton and the corporate media to address the real economic problems facing the middle class and working people," observed Sanders, "then you can come up with demagogues like Pat Buchanan who get a lot of attention and support because at least he is saying, 'it's not true that the economy is booming for you. It's not true the jobs you have are seeing increased income.' Buchanan is right on those issues."
But while Ol' Bernardo will give the Loose Buchanan credit where credit is due, he's quick to point out their differences before Verniont's loyal Sanderistas go into shock.
"To suggest someone like Bernie Sanders has a lot in common with Pat Buchanan is very, very wrong," he cautioned. "Pat Buchanan is a conservative Republican who has a long history of being anti-union."
That's a no-no to a guy who considers trade unionism one of the world's greatest religions. And there's plenty more.
"How can Buchanan say to women," asks Sanders, "not only can you not have a legal abortion, but you can't get an abortion even in the case of rape?"
And despite his obvious relish for the Loose Buchanan's economic analysis, Ol' Bernardo offers comfort to his other sociopolitical causes and constituencies.
"Pat Buchanan is a homophobe," charged Sanders. He "opposes national health care." He's "made statement after statement which borders on racism and anti-semitism."
Buchanan isn't a champion of the gay movement, the Israeli lobby, Affirmative Action, a woman's right to choose an abortion, or the Million Man March. At least, love him or hate him, you know where he stands — just like Sanders. And lately Mr. "From the Right" has become a real pain in the neck — and elsewhere — for those "bloodless corporate butchers," as he calls the CEOs of blue-chip American capitalism and their "obscene salaries."
Okay, we get the drift.
Saturday, during his quick swing through Burlington, Bob Dole said he didn't think Vermonters would subscribe to Buchanan's positions. Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling won't. Attorney General Jeffrey Amestoy won't. State Sen. Susan Sweetser won't. However, the WPTZ-Rutland Herald Vermont poll had Buchanan neck-and-neck with Dole. Mainstream Democrats like Connecticut U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd are quick to park the Loose Buchanan in Satan's bullpen. On Saturday, Dodd entertained a Democratic lovefest at Burlington's City Hall by comparing the four top Republican presidential hopefuls — Bob Dole, Lamar Alexander, Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan — to a quartet of monkeys: "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, and Evil."
If Mr. Sanders, the godfather of the state's progressive movement, were to cast a ballot in the Vermont presidential primary — hypothetically, of course — he'd be mightily tempted by the sight of those Republican ballots stacked on the table. The Eugene Debs in him would light up for one flash of a revolutionary second — because we know whose name he'd put the check-mark beside. Buchanan's tapped into the issue of haves versus have nots. And it's an issue Ol' Bernardo wants to see embedded on the national political stage.
Hemp Update — The hemp bill that passed the Vermont House 108-32 sure does make for some strange bedfellows. Howard Dean opposes it. So does State Sen. Susan Sweetser. The Self-Righteous Brothers voted for it, but Congressman Bernie Sanders dissed the idea last week. "It's not a priority," said Mr. Save the Family Farm. Then there's Lt. Gov. Barbara Snelling. She's pro-farmer all the way. Interesting.
Media Notes — Statehouse Lobbyist Will Mikell is bagging his new lobbying gig for the Ski Areas Association and returning to his old job as senior editor at WCAX-TV. "It's not me," he told Inside Track. "I'm not very good at these games."