Thursday, March 13, 2008

How Not to Win Bipartisan Support

President Bush objects strenuously to Senator Hillary Clinton’s support for a Congressional “time out” on deciding any more trade agreements this year. He certainly has a right to speak up in support of his trade program. But he has no right to distort Senator Clinton’s position.

He did so on March 12 in a long speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Without mentioning her name, he claimed that she supports “a timeout from trade,…a timeout from growth, a timeout from jobs, and a timeout from good results.”

Mrs. Clinton’s position is a bit less sweeping. For one thing, she knows that, even without new trade deals, trade will continue to flow. Last October she included her call for a time-out in a speech in Iowa, and she later explained her reasons in a USA Today interview. She said, in part:

“I think that on balance, trade was a net positive for America and American workers during the 20th century….We have to consider carefully, What’s the role of trade going forward? How do we best position the United States to take advantage of the global economy?’ And I don’t think we’ve had serious conversation about that.”

Bush no doubt thinks all that is already settled. But that’s not enough reason for his fear-mongering about “isolationist policies and protectionist policies” that would “stop trade, erect barriers, try to wall ourselves off from the world” – positions that nobody in Congress holds. It also wasn’t the best way to win friends and influence people on the Hill.

Yet Bush used that high-visibility event, attended by six Cabinet members, to threaten to force a vote on a trade agreement with Colombia after it returns from its Easter recess. He was technically able to do that under the power he still holds under the President’s Trade Promotion Act, which expired last July when Congress refused to extend it. Wielding that club of executive power now, however, no longer strikes cringing obeisance.

The most forceful response that I’ve seen came from Change to Win, the partnership of seven unions that broke off from the AFL-CIO in 2005. Recalling that Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for unionists, a Change to Win press release urged Congress to reject the deal with Colombia because (as its new ad says)“Americans don’t trade with death squads.”

James P. Hoffa, head of the Teamsters and a Change to Win leader, added: “Workers need trade policies that create jobs. They don’t need more deals that destroy jobs. Voters across the country are making the point increasingly clear every time they go to the polls. America is hemorrhaging jobs because of the so-called free trade agreements. That must be stopped.”

Back to President Bush and his support for choice in the supermarket.

I couldn’t help getting a kick about one additional reason he gave for wanting Congress to hurry up and approve more free trade agreements. “We want our consumers to have choices when they walk into markets,” he said. “The more choices available, the better it is for a consumer.” But this traditional argument is somewhat outmoded.

Have you walked into a store recently to buy a product made in the United States? If so, you know how restricted your choices are. Globalization, whatever its wonders, has in too many cases narrowed our choices to goods made in China. This is especially troubling to anyone (like me) anxious to avoid buying anything from a country that is the sweatshop for the world, the home of forced labor camps, the jailer of dissidents, and the persecutors of religion.

In their 1980 book, “Free to Choose,” Milton and Rose Friedman portrayed the act of making a purchase in a store to casting a ballot in a voting booth – an essential part of economic freedom. President Bush did not use that comparison in his speech, but the Friedman point does make some sense as one way to measure the impact of trade.

Last year the United States imported a record volume of goods from China: $321,507,800,000 worth in all, according to the Commerce Department. Personally, I see it as 321,507,800,000 votes for China’s human rights policy. Yes, all too often, I voted the same way. I really tried not to, even by doing without, but usually I had no choice.

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1 comment:

ChamberPost said...

Five former commanders of the U.S. Southern Command have sent an open letter to Congress supporting the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. The letter clearly lays out why the agreement is in our national interest. Here is the text of the letter: