The Corner

Clinton And Obama On Trade: Believe One Thing, Say Another

I have a new story up on how the issue of trade created so much trouble for a top Obama aide (Austan Goolsbee) and the top Clinton aide (Mark Penn).  The problem, in both cases, is this:

Many staffers and surrogates, in both campaigns, simply don’t believe what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are saying about NAFTA, and free trade in general, on the campaign trail. But they can’t say so. “A lot of them are free traders, but during the Democratic primaries they stay in the closet,” one Democratic strategist who is not affiliated with either campaign told me Monday. “More the Clinton campaign than the Obama campaign, but probably both.”

When I asked Will Marshall, a key figure in the centrist New Democrat movement and head of the Progressive Policy Institute, what was going on, he seemed genuinely dismayed. “There has been a kind of willing suspension of rationality when it comes to the trade debate,” Marshall told me. “Apparently, the rule is that in the primaries, facts and evidence don’t matter, so bashing trade becomes a way of validating the emotions of people who feel stressed by global competition, and the facts get trampled underfoot in the process.”

But are serious figures in the Clinton and Obama campaigns saying things about trade that they simply don’t believe? “I can’t say that,” Marshall says. “But it seems unlikely that either a President Obama or a President Clinton would waste their political capital in their first 100 days trying to reopen a 15-year-old trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. I think it’s implausible that the next administration is going to try to renegotiate NAFTA. So let people draw their own conclusions.”

Byron York is is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.

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