After getting off to a strong start, during which he offers an accessible explanation of what “outsourcing” actually means, Daniel Altman’s short Foreign Policy article on the subject ultimately disappoints. Though Altman has every reason to criticize Mitt Romney’s counter-accusations against President Obama, he doesn’t devote any sustained attention to the specifics of the president’s charges against the former Massachusetts governor. The article would have benefited from referencing the Employ Americans Workers Act and the Buy American provision of the 2009 fiscal stimulus law. It helps to understand that Altman, a veteran of the New York Times editorial board and author of Neoconomy, among other books, is a strong supporter of the president.
Matt Yglesias, who is very much an unapologetic Obama partisan, takes a different approach:
Stipulate that Romney somehow had nothing to do with running a company of which he was the CEO and sole shareholder. Does he think, in retrospect, that his subordinates did something wrong by offshoring jobs? Clearly he didn’t, which highlights the absurdity of his claims not to have been responsible. It’s true that he wasn’t running the country on a day-to-day basis, but he really was titular CEO and had Bain been doing something he deemed outrageous he could and should have stepped in to stop them. But he doesn’t believe that. And what’s more, all indications are that Barack Obama also doesn’t think Bain was doing anything wrong. As president he’s made no moves to make it illegal for companies to shift production work abroad and has publicly associated himself with a wide range of American firms—from GE to Apple and beyond—who’ve done just that to varying extents. And we all remember what happened to Obama’s promise to renegotiate NAFTA after taking office, right?
Though I tend to think Matt is right about this, and that Barack Obama isn’t actually opposed to offshoring (as we’ve discussed), it is in fairness worth pointing out that the president has in fact backed measures designed to curb the practice. One is reminded of President Bush’s support for the federal marriage amendment, which he reported backed only very reluctantly. It could be that while President Obama recognizes the political potency of anti-trade attacks, he is uncomfortable about them. More speculatively still, it is possible that the president prefers to attack Romney on trade rather than Medicare because he hopes to pursue an ambitious Medicare overhaul in a second term and he doesn’t want to box himself in.