The Issue That Could Decide the Democratic Nomination - And the General Election
None of us likes being lied to by politicians, and not just because being lied to is insulting, but because when a lie comes from a politician, it suggests that none of their promises should be believed. As my new nationally syndicated newspaper column shows, this is precisely what is going on in the presidential race when it comes to trade and globalization policy - key policies as the race heads into the working-class bastions of Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
So called "free trade" in the form of NAFTA and similar policies beging flogged by the government is the one issue which I think should be of concern to us all. It is these policies which have contributed more than any other to the steady decline in middle class personal wealth, stagnant to negative wage growth and our current stagflation worries during a time when Wall Street still shows the largest industrial concerns raking in record profits. It has put the lie to the theory of supply side (or "trickle down") Reaganomics in an environment where American industries are actually rewarded for outsourcing good paying American jobs out of the country and the offshoring of manufacturing facilities.
I still maintain that this issue, above all others, is one where voters can can really analyze the various candidates. Clinton and Obama are nearly idendtical on so many issues, with only minor differences between their positions on health care, Iraq, etc. More so than any other, fair trade is the point where we can find some daylight between the two of them, to say nothing of McCain's stance. The lies to which Sirota refers come from Senator Clinton.
It would be one thing if Hillary Clinton was admitting that yes, she vigorously supported NAFTA, but that support was misguided. But no, as the column shows, Clinton is now trying to convince voters she never supported the North American Free Trade Agreement - the trade model whose lack of labor, human rights and environmental standards made it a tool for Big Business to ship jobs abroad. Not only is she claiming to be a longtime opponent of the deal, but she's actually trotting out former Clinton administration officials-turned-corporate-lawyers like Mickey Kantor - the very architects of the deal - to tell us that behind closed doors she really wasn't for NAFTA. Shocker - these are the same hacks who have lashed their careers to Clinton's campaign in hopes of getting back their White House jobs.
The strategy assumes that the media will simply report this revisionist history as fact, and worse, that Americans who have been crushed by this unfair trade policy are a bunch of idiots. We are simply supposed to ignore the speeches she made telling us what a great success NAFTA was, including the one where she traveled to Davos, Switzerland to give a speech in which she thanked corporate interests for mounting "a very effective business effort in the U.S. on behalf of NAFTA" (that's a direct quote from her mouth). And the lying is about the best indicator that all her rhetoric promising a new trade policy under a Hillary Clinton presidency would be tossed out the window when she got to the White House - much like Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign promises to oppose NAFTA and China PNTR were tossed out the window when he was inaugurated president.
Similar to his position on Iraq, Obama has been consistent (if a bit too quiet) on this issue from the beginning. He recognizes the problem and sees the results these policies have generated. (Lest anyone forget, our "strong and getting stronger" economy, lifted up on the wings of seven years of Bush's tax bonanza for industries and the wealthiest Americans, is on the verge of a meltdown and the only debate going on in Washington right now is how to bail us out of it.) Hillary Clinton has not been consistent on this issue and seems to be coming late to the party in her half-hearted recent endorsements for reform.
Let's turn back to Sirota for a concise, articulate explanation of exactly what the problem is here, in case you need the Cliff Notes on the issue.
For the tiny minority of Americans that polls show still drink the "free" trade Kool-Aide, remember that what we have is not "free" trade. We have rigged trade. Our trade deals are chock full of restrictive patent, intellectual property and copyright provisions that protect corporate profits - and often hurt regular people (for one example, see how our rigged trade policy is being used by drug companies to inflate medicine prices in the developing world). Our trade deals are "free" only of similar protections for ordinary people and the environment.
I have personally watched in the computer technology industry as large corporations lay off herds of American workers from high skill level, good paying jobs and then turn around and mandate that each division hire a given percentage of telecommuting "global assets," generally from India or South America. Manufacturing plants in the United States (and their associated jobs and benefits to communities) continue to disappear offshore, while our markets get flooded with cheap (and frequently dangerous) imports, making it ever harder for "Made In America" goods to compete. "Free Trade" is neither free nor fair as implemented by the administrations of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It is a boon to pretty much everyone except working Americans and has helped bring us to the troubles we face today.
Some of those still in denial over this decry "protectionist" policies as looking to the past. As Sirota points out, a little whistful examination of history might not be such a bad thing.
Also remember that the American economy - and all industrialized economies that we tout - grew into a powerhouses not through the kind of trade policies we have today, but with various forms of protections. Far from creating an economic crisis as free market fundamentalists claim, tariffs protecting workers from having to compete with slave labor, protecting the environment, protecting fledgling industries ("social tariffs" as Ross Perot called them) help prevent a destructive race to the bottom. Sure, tariffs can be bad when inappropriately applied - but the idea that "protectionism" and "tariffs" are all bad is absurd, based on a simple reading of basic American economic history.
We need a candidate for president who not only understands this, but is ready and willing to work for real reform and an America First Attitude. Hillary Clinton's record on this is spotty at best, and John McCain will stick with the Bush tax cuts and the GOP company line. In my opinion, Barack Obama is the candidate who get's it, and we can't afford a president who does not.