Some Congressional Democrats say GOP tub-thumper Pat Buchanan is hijacking their favorite re-election themes by appealing to blue collar workers' job and trade insecurities. Others say it's just not so.
House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri warned his colleagues in a speech Tuesday that Buchanan is clearly plugging into a rich vein of worker discontent and voter insecurity that Democrats must mine during this election year."At least he's recognized the crisis of falling wages and incomes," Gephardt said. "He has at least acknowledged what hard-working families go through to raise their children and put food on the table."
Gephardt said he doesn't agree with Buchanan's prescription of new tariff barriers and a clampdown on immigration to deal with the problems. But the Democratic leader said he does understand why Buchanan is getting such strong support, because worker dislocation and discontent is just what Gephardt himself has been talking about for the last decade.
Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also accused Buchanan of hijacking Democratic issues such as reckless corporate downsizing - a theme Rockfeller noted he's also been sounding for several years.
"This is a very rich issue, and a very worthy issue," Rockefeller said, adding he's not surprised to see voters expressing their discontent in the primary polls.
"Workers have had no real increase in wages since the mid-1970's, and they have every reason to be very angry about it," Rockefeller said. "Corporations have paid more attention to machinery than people, and he's (Buchanan) latched onto that."
Irate Democrats said they plan congressional hearings to tell voters they feel their pain and have remedies for what ails them.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.Mex., said he's pushing a comprehensive package of reforms in job retraining programs and tax laws to discourage corporations from moving their plants overseas, and to encourage executives to improve the lives of their workers.
"The fact that workers are scrambling to pay the bills each month isn't a new issue for the Democrats," Bingaman said.
But some Democrats say they can't hear any Democratic message in what Buchanan is telling voters.
"I hear an extremely conservative Republican," said Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who contends Buchanan's populist message tries to shift the blame for what's going wrong to trade and immigration.
Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., scoffed at Gephardt's suggestion that any part of a Democratic platform could be found in Buchanan's position.
"I've not thought of it that way at all," Pryor said.