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.
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.
But now, Barack Obama is picking up where John Edwards left off and is reminding folks of the real history, promising to get serious on trade, and consequently the polls in Ohio appear to be closing.
Though Obama is certainly not as aggressive on the issue as some of us would like, the rhetoric is encouraging in that he sees his political opportunity in standing with progressives. That means if he manages to win on this message, he will have begun the process of building a real public mandate to reform our broken trade policy - a mandate that he will be under enormous pressure to respect and fulfill as president.