Saturday, November 14, 2009

What Happened to the Thunderous Liberal Opposition to Free Trade?

According to MSNBC, President Obama has indicated that the United States will seek to join a trade agreement with a small group of nations that would eventually expand into a larger Pacific Rim free trade pact. This development represents a dramatic shift from the rhetoric that colored the Democratic presidential primaries.

During the Democratic primaries, opposition to free trade became a standard line of the Left. The issue became extremely heated as the close political contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton moved into rustbelt states, like Ohio. Obama's campaign blamed Clinton for helping to pass NAFTA, while Clinton rebuked Obama in her infamous "shame on you" speech.

The anti-trade rhetoric reached a fever pitch after a Canadian governmental official said that one of Obama's economic advisers told him during a policy meeting that Obama's dramatic opposition to NAFTA was simply political posturing and that Obama would not disturb the free trade agreement. The Obama campaign cried foul play.

Nevertheless, after he secured the Democratic nomination, Obama began to abandon his anti-trade rhetoric. He said he would not seek to renegotiate NAFTA "unilaterally," and he attributed some of his earlier comments denouncing the agreement to "overheated and amplified" campaigning. The announcement of a new trade agreement -- rather than the reform of existing ones -- suggests that the anti-trade campaign rhetoric among Democrats was indeed political posturing and that they employed it to exploit economic vulnerability among middle-class and poor voters. Finally, the MSNBC article does not mention the recent primaries at all.

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