Feeling small

Editor's note: This is the final week Molly Ivins' column will appear in the Dallas Observer. We are forced to discontinue her column because the management of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has ordered her syndicate to yank it from our pages. The Star-Telegram took the action after the Observer published critical stories about the Fort Worth daily.

Ah, My Boy Buchanan has got them chasing their tails now. Goodness, what an uproar.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole has stepped forward to save the GOP from the ravaging hordes of class warriors, the Great Unwashed, the peasants with pitchforks who are about to overthrow the established order.

And those are just the Republicans.
In a further loony-tunes loop (don't you just love politics?), Dole, the old grump, is now casting himself in the role of Sweetness and Light. He wants to Bring Us Together, he says, in the great tradition of the Republican Party.

Sure, the party that ran Sen. Jesse Helms' campaign against Harvey Gantt, the party of the Southern Strategy, Lee Atwater, the race card, the soft-on-crime ploy--that political party.

We are, you recall, setting aside for the nonce (one of my favorite periods of time) the news that My Boy Buchanan is a racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-Semite--although I should warn M.B.B. that if he doesn't stop this gay-bashing, there'll be no one left to design the uniforms.

The Buchanan presidency now being quite as advanced as the Forbes presidency was just a few weeks ago, I have naturally been savoring the observations made about My Boy Buchanan. My favorite was by television pundit Morton Kondracke (we must give him credit for speaking wryly): "I think something important happened to Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire in 1990 when he discovered that people could be out of work through no fault of their own--at least white people."

We are all grateful for this conversion experience on the road to Damascus--or at any rate, south of Dixville Notch.

You may recall (I know it's hard to remember this far back) that all this began with Bob Dole's response to President Clinton's State of the Union address (a performance that ineluctably brought to mind the words: "Somewhere in Transylvania, there is an empty grave..."). Republicans began looking for Anybody But Dole.

Steve Forbes, the really rich one, bought his way into contendership for a spell. Poor charmless Phil Gramm finally saw the handwriting on the wall and dropped out. (Ida Frankel of New York suggests that the handwriting said: "Meanie, meanie, tekel, upharsin"--consult the Book of Daniel if you don't get the joke.) Lamar Alexander, the one in plaid, then surged, although "surge" is an awfully active verb for the white-bread Alexander. And then My Boy Buchanan came thundering in from the right, causing David Brinkley to inquire plaintively last Sunday, "What are all these people so angry about?"

Hard to imagine, isn't it?
Now, regard the advance in political debate wrought by M.B.B. Newsweek's recent cover article on "Corporate Killers," the CEOs who fire tens of thousands of people and are rewarded with million-dollar salaries, is just packed with interesting items.

For example, when Chase Manhattan recently merged with Chemical Bank, Chase cut 12,000 jobs but kept all 36 outside directors, "who get fat fees and dandy retirement packages," Newsweek reported. In the midst of a sea of similar news nuggets was this throwaway observation: "A marvelous company like Motorola can have its stock smashed to smithereens, if its profits come in a hair or two below expectations."

Now that M.B.B. has introduced to a startled political world the notion that millions of Americans have, in fact, noticed that they are getting shafted while the rich get richer, the R's are regrouping valiantly. National party chairman Haley Barbour (it's so Republican to have two last names) has sent forth word that this unpleasant economic phenomenon is the "Clinton recession." Of course, wages have been stagnating for 20 years now and downsizing dates from the Bush recession, but a political year always brings out a certain joie de vivre concerning the facts. Barbour lays it all at the feet of high taxes and big government.

You must admit that this is a jovial change from the R's Denial Phase. For years, they've been denying that most people have to work harder for less, that the Reagan years lifted all yachts and sank the rowboats, that the poor were getting poorer and the middle class was going nowhere. Median family income is lower than it was in 1990, according to Stanford economist Paul Krugman. Meanwhile--according to USA Today--corporate profits rose 115 percent in the last four years, and investors in the stock market have seen their net worth grow by 109 percent during the past five years. But it's hard to invest in the stock market when your salary isn't keeping up with inflation.

For years now, this has felt like a debate with Lewis Carroll's Red Queen. You'd say what was happening, and the Republicans would say, "It is not!" There were days when I just wanted someone to hand me a flamingo so I could play croquet.

Meanwhile, here's some good news on the economic front. You may recall that President Bill Clinton, who is never above stealing a good idea, borrowed Jack Kemp's notion about empowerment zones--giving special tax breaks and other incentives to companies that locate in poor, urban areas. The interesting twist is that early bidders for these goodies are foreign companies.

Knight-Ridder reports that firms from Malaysia, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have either bit or are nibbling at the bait. Hey, we'll take their money. Clinton wants to put another $2 billion into enterprise zones. Makes sense: If they're going to sell it here, why not make it here?

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1996 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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Molly Ivins