Democrats Run From Free Trade

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Recently, I spoke to a group of Hispanic high school students with plans to apply to Ivy League universities. The first thing I wanted them to know was that they wouldn’t be the only ones applying. It’s fine to have big dreams, I told them.

But here’s the catch: For everything you want in life, there are going to be others who want the same things. So you have to compete. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Competition is part of life. It makes you better, stronger and – ultimately – more powerful.

That is what Democratic voters around the country should be hearing from their party’s presidential candidates. But that’s not likely to happen – not when the Democratic Party has become the anti-competition party.


It’s true in education where Democrats, with their slavish devotion to teachers’ unions, oppose vouchers even for constituencies they pretend to champion such as minorities and the disadvantaged. Vouchers would force public schools into competition.

It’s true with immigration, where many Democrats advance the phony argument that illegal immigrants displace U.S. workers by lowering wages. For low-skilled workers who refuse to get more skills or learn a new trade, illegal immigrants amount to competition.

And it’s certainly true in the area of trade, where Democrats do the bidding of organized labor by fighting trade agreements and advocating protectionism. Trade, by its very nature, encourages competition by opening up markets across borders and seas.


That sort of thing can be scary in economically depressed states, where blue-collar and low-skilled workers are looking for someone or something to blame for their woes. In states such as Ohio, leaders of organized labor have been working overtime to convince the rank and file that the North American Free

Trade Agreement is singularly responsible for the economic uncertainty that a lot of people are feeling right now.


So, with the Ohio primary approaching on March 4, do you suppose Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are delivering the message that competition isn’t something to fear?

Nope. Not even close. Instead, the candidates are competing to see who is the bigger protectionist and trying to demagogue the trade issue just as Republicans have done with border security. Apparently, in Ohio – as in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other Rust Belt states – the worst thing one Democrat can say about another is that he or she is in favor of (gasp!) free trade.


And so it is that Hillary Clinton is fuming over a mailing sent to Ohio Democrats by the Obama campaign that, she claims, distorts her views on NAFTA. The mailing quotes a 2006 Newsday article suggesting Clinton believed the agreement had been a “boon” to the U.S. economy.

The Clinton campaign insists that she never used the word “boon” and that this was the newspaper’s phrasing. Newsday backs her up – sort of. It has acknowledged that the word “boon” was a “characterization of how we best understood her position on NAFTA, based on a review of past stories and her public statements.”

Clinton has said that she wants to change NAFTA, and points out that neither she nor Obama were in the  Senate when the historic trade agreement was ratified and so neither of them “voted one way or the other” on it.

That’s true. But, as Clinton has pointed out when convenient, she was in the White House at the time. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, was a vocal champion of the agreement, pushed for its passage, and signed it into law. And, if Hillary Clinton had any qualms about the agreement at the time, she didn’t make them public.

Obama seized on that, insisting that his opponent can’t claim credit for some of what her husband’s administration did but distance herself from the rest of it. No fair, says Clinton. She insists that – in trying to hang NAFTA around her neck in a state where the agreement is hugely unpopular – Obama has violated his promise to practice a new brand of politics.

“Shame on you, Barack Obama,” Clinton said as she waved the mailings in front of reporters in Cincinnati. “It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public – that’s what I expect from you.”
But here’s the real issue. Shouldn’t we expect more from Democrats and those who represent them than to engage in these kinds of silly debates?



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