Issue 4 - Summer/Fall 1996
“Fighting for the Soul of the GOP": Buchanan's 2nd Wave Reactionaries Challenge Gingrich's 3rd Wave Conservatives (page 1 of 2)
By Carl Davidson and Jerry Harris Chicago Third Wave Study Group

First it was Gingrich, now it's Buchanan. We hate to belabor the point, but the country's right wing keeps making gains these days by stealing rhetorical thunder from the left. As Cy.Rev #2 noted, House Speaker Newt Gingrich launched the biggest attack on the state since the 1960's left. Now Pat Buchanan has emerged as an opposition force within the GOP, only he's aiming his populist invective at the corporate elite rather than government. Pat recently even had his fellow pundits on the Channel 11 News Hour asking, half seriously, "Has Wall Street replaced Communism as America's enemy?"!

This new turn puts President Clinton in a quandry, with Pat stealing blue-collar votes by attacking him from the left while Newt goes after the yuppies from the right. A lot of people keep hoping Clinton will pick-up the ball of old-fashioned New Deal liberalism and make a mad dash down the center. Instead the President wobbles, first telling us the economy, thanks to him, is doing just fine for most people, then warning us that it sucks for most people, especially the 40% who are scared for their jobs.

When it comes to social or redistributive programs, the Clinton White House has more in common with Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt. The limits of the debate in Washington have become so conservative that Clinton's best package of "liberal" reforms is considerably to the right of the Nixon-Moynihan domestic programs of the 1970s. When Clinton's left-leaning Labor Secretary Robert Reich, in response to Buchanan, made the meager suggestion that government give tax breaks to corporations who avoid layoffs, even that cautious idea was attacked as "socialist" on Nightline by corporate spokesman Albert Dunlap.

But no one seems to think the happy days are here again. Instead every major newspaper and magazine are running stories about the new insecurity, the gap in wealth, and greedy CEOs. These are nothing new to unskilled production workers, who have always expected layoffs and job insecurity. But the spreading of insecurity to skilled workers, professionals and managerial employees at the big money loaded corporations is a different matter. It reflects a shrinking political and economic base for what Newsweek calls "in-your-face capitalism."

Into this breach steps, Pat Buchanan, the new working class hero. By attacking NAFTA and Wall Street, Buchanan has split the conservative movement in two. Who ever heard of a Republican criticizing corporate America in this way! Even Gingrich quickly distanced himself, as did the whole wing of economic conservatives.

What is going on here? Is Buchanan really espousing left social democracy wrapped in right wing cultural values? Is he a nationalist and populist in the same way that Hitler's fascists were "national socialists?" Or what?

One fruitful approach to this question is to place the Gingrich-Buchanan split in the GOP in the context of the basic changes in the productive forces and the emergence of new ways of creating and accumulating wealth--the relative decline of second wave "smokestack" industries and the emergence of third wave, information-based industries. Simply put, Buchanan is a second wave reactionary trying top circle the wagons around the old order, while Gingrich wants to stake out the conservative pole within the third wave society of the future.

The focus of their difference is globalization. Cybertechnology has allowed capitalism more freedom to employ anybody anywhere to make or sell anything--and to do it fast. The rapid decentralization of production and the octopus of world financial markets was made possible by the development of computers that can program a production robot in Indonesia from an office in New York.

Telecommunication systems now keep open a 24-hour on-line world speculative market which functions in real time. Today's digital technology allows a San Francisco bank to do it's accounting in the Caymen Islands as if the department was down the hall from the CEO's office.

This new freedom has resulted in a tremendous surge of financial power. Outsourcing doesn't just mean giving autoworker's jobs to the non-union shop across town. Cheap labor can now be readily recruited anywhere in the world. The destruction of corporate liberalism's post-World War 2 social contract--well paying union jobs and work security in America's industrial heartland-- is the result of a many tiered technological revolution, at home and abroad.

Gingrich understands this process, cheers it on, and hopes to become the main spokesman for the infotech global finanace capitalists and marketeers within this third wave economy. As production, markets, and finances all globalize, attacks on national government and its regulatory power is only natural. NAFTA is thus the practical symbol of this new world order.

Buchanan has mapped out an alternative course. He is a conservative who has decided to base his reactionary populism in the anger caused by these changes. He has thus become the defender of the diehard nationalists of the old second wave national economy. In his speeches, he explictly refers to industrial jobs, textiles, and even our lost shoe factories. Buchanan blames immigrants from the third world as much as global corporations who move to the third world.

It's no wonder silicon valley executives got upset when he called for a ban on all legal immigration for five years. For some of these corporations 40% of their labor force is composed of computer literate immigrants recruited from the global workforce. Buchanan not only targets the CEOs of the new elite, he also threatens their workforce and access to new sources of intellectual capital.

Insecurity in the labor force is not a temporary issue. The current economic recovery, our first real third wave boom, is called "jobless recovery" for just that reason. Production and profits are up, but downsizing is spreading and most new jobs are part-time or temporary. Two-thirds of all new jobs in the last quarter paid under $20,000 a year.

The driving force behind stock prices and the new profitability is the ability of information technology to downsize the labor force. Just think of how much more work a secretary can do on a PC than a typewriter, and the speed in which she does it. If her output increases by 20% you can turn her into a part-timer with no loss of productivity, and with savings on wages, benefits, pensions, and vacations. There are similar examples at every level of corporate life. In fact, in 1992 capital investment in information technology outstripped investment in manufacturing by for the first time in history. The gap was $25 billion, and is only growing wider. More >>


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