lace even less.rnA Senator Buchanan from Virginia or a Representative Naderrnfrom Connecticut would probablv fare better in November.rnBoth also face onerous ballot-access laws, which the major partiesrnuse to restrict polihcai compehhon. A considerable amountrnof a third part”s resources are spent on qualifying for the ballot.rnThis is money that is unavailable for advertising and get-out-thevotcrndrives in the fall. Still, ballot-access laws were used in 1860rnto keep Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln off a quarter ofrnthe state ballots, but in a four-wav race, he was able to achievernvictor)’.rnDenied the possibilify’ of electoral votes and the status affordedrnby public office, the best prospects for Buchanan and Naderrnremain in the swing states that will decide the election. A strongrnperformance by Nader in California could cost Gore the WliiternHouse, while a good showing b}’ Buchanan in the Rust Beltrnstates of Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania could preventrnBush from avenging his father’s defeat in 1992.rnIn two books published in the 1990’s {Arrogant Capital:rnWashington, Wall Street and the Frustration of American Politicsrnand Boiling Point: Democrats, Republicans and the Decline ofrnMiddle-Class Prosperity), Kevin Phillips describes many of thernissues that appeal to today’s independents. These issues couldrnbe exploited by a shrewd populist, either from the left or thernright. But this year? In mid-2000, Phillips wrote:rnIf Buchanan focuses on the populist, nationalist, isolationistrnand cviltural right, his potential 8 percent to 12rnpercent of the vote would come largely from Bush andrnthe Republicans. The 1990s trend within the Group ofrnSeven major Western industrial nations has been forrnbreakaway right-wing or right-center populist parties tornundermine governing conserative coalitions: the radicalrnright in Italy aird France, and the Refornr parties in bothrnCanada and the United States. Buchanan might hopernfor a similar role. If Nader outscores Buchanan, Gore becomesrnthe clear underdog. But if Buchanan builds a European-rnsfylc parfy witii overtones of nationalism, isolationismrnand anti-immigrant politics, plus elements of thernChristian right. Bush is probably tiie one in trouble.rnThis is the optimistic view.rnThe biggest obstacle faced bv both Buchanan and Nader isrnthe public’s perception that the economy is booming andrnwe are living in prosperous times. According to the NationalrnBureau of Economic Research, tiicre were 20 recessions duringrnthe 20th centur)’, and only a handful occurred in a presidentialrnelection year. Third-parfy candidates have alvays fared betterrnin times of economic uncertainh’ or recession —Perot in 1992rnbeing the most recent example. It is more difficult to convincernThe People, Nornhy Robert BeumrnThe People chose Barabbas, Clinton, Mao,rnAnd might choose goernnient if diey knew how.rnvoters to cast ballots against the Democrats and Republicansrnwhen they believe they are prospering. Many Americans arernconvinced that they will become millionaires because of an unprecedentedrnbull market. Our millionaire culture is one of therngreatest sales jobs in American histor)’. It manifests itself not on-rn1 among those using their personal computers to trade on WallrnStreet but also in popular TV shows such as Who Wants To BernA Millionaire?, Who Wants To Many A Millionaire?, and (myrnnominee for most honest title) Greed.rnThe bull is running despite a veritable flow of U.S. governmentrnreports documenting the decline of high-wage manufacturingrnjobs; the increase of low-paying, part-time service-sectorrnpositions; the elimination of true middle-class pensions (definedrnbenefit plans, not portable 401Ks); and dangerous consruuerrndebt levels.rnIn a recent issue of Forbes, Peter Brimelow uses governmentrndata to report that interest on consumer debt—excluding mortgagerninterest—as a share of disposable (after-tax) income hasrnreached an unprecedented level: The Federal Reserve estimatesrnthat, in 1998, average family debt-service burden, includingrninterest and principal, was 14.5 percent, up from 12.7 percentrnin 1989. “This unprecedented burden now exists despiternthe fact that disposable income has been increasing rapidly andrnconsumer credit is no longer tax-deductible,” Brimelow notes.rnMore ominously, this debt has piled higher during a period ofrndisinflafion, with falling interest rates and bond yields. (Thernyield on the bellwether 30-year U.S. Treasury bond fell morernthan 1,000 basis points from its peak in the early 1980’s.rnThe sleepwalkers discount rising consumer debt, preferringrnto view it “as a percentage of some other statistic” that is also rising.rnBut the real debt burden will become clear when interestrnrates rise or a recession ensues. “As a fraction of disposable personalrnincome . . . , ” Brimelow writes, “total household debt wasrnfy’pically 60 to 70 percent until the early 1980s. Since then itrnhas risen steadily. In 1999 (third quarter) the ratio stood at 95rnpercent.” Some who are assuming these debt levels are engagingrnin conspicuous consumption, living beyond their economicrnmeans. But marry others, especially in the industrial heartland,rnhae been forced to do so to sustain the pretense of arnmiddle-class lifest’le. Their debt burdens will become difficult,rnif not impossible, to maintain during the next recession; whenrnthat contraction hits, they are more likely to vote for an economicrnpopulist who offers change.rnBush and the Republicans are counting on “the” to defeat Gore. A populist Capitol Hill staffer observes,rn”Republicans really believe that what is good for Wall Street isrngood for America.” They may succeed in this election, but theyrncannot repeal the business cycle. Sleepwalker claims of a “NewrnParadigm” notwithstanding, tiie current economic expansionrnwill eentually end in a recession.rnWhich candidate —Buchanan or Nader—made the followingrnremark about the World Trade Organization? “The WTOrnundermines our legitimate local, state, and national sovereignties.”rnWhich one made the following statement about NAFTA?rn”Tlie elitist architects of GATT and NAFTA have locked armsrnw ith their corporate cohorts to support a trade policy that is neitherrnfair nor free.” (Nader made the former statement,rnBuchanan the latter.) If Nader and Buchanan combined canrnachieve double-digits in key swing states, the biggest surprisernwill occur after the election: the emergence of a new populistrncoalition or fusion of ideas, if not a merger of the Green and Reformrnparties. Histor’ shows co-optation \’i!l follow.rn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn