Barack Obama owes Austan Goolsbee an apology. Approximately one month before the Ohio primary, Goolsbee, an informal adviser to the Obama campaign, attended a meeting with Canadian government officials at which he was asked about Obama’s apparent hostility to NAFTA. According to a memo written about the meeting, Goolsbee told the Canadians, “much of the rhetoric that may be perceived to be protectionist is more reflective of political maneuvering than policy.”
When the Associated Press publicized this memo shortly before the Ohio primary, Obama’s campaign distanced itself from Goolsbee, but it looks like Goolsbee was right:
Obama, campaigning in San Francisco, describing voters in Pennsylvania:
“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them,” Obama said. “And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
It’s impossible to imagine someone like Sherrod Brown — someone who truly, if incorrectly, believes that trade liberalization has been bad for the United States — talking this way about constituencies that oppose free-trade deals. Behind closed doors — among his fellow educated, upper-class liberals — the real Obama sounds very different from the one who threatened to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA. That Obama sounded a lot like Brown. This Obama sounds more like the one Goolsbee described to the Canadians.