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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Even Less Love On Trade

Last weekend I wrote of the lack of love the Democratic contenders were receiving on their trade stances. That lack of love is continuing, with Newsweek International's editor, Fareed Zakaria, writing "The Democrats' Dangerous Rhetoric" concerning their trade stances.

Just this one quote from a Latin American diplomat should make folks on the left side of the aisle wonder if we'll really increase our world standing by electing either Obama or Clinton:

The backlash could be greatest against Obama because he's raised the highest hopes. A senior Latin American diplomat told me, "Look, we're all watching Obama with bated breath and hoping [his election] will be a transforming moment for the world. But now that we're listening to him on trade - the issue that affects us so deeply - we realize that maybe he doesn't wish us well. In fact, we might find ourselves nostalgic for Bush, who is brave and courageous on trade and immigration." (emphasis mine)
That quote should send shivers through the spines of Democrats. Having other countries diplomats openly, and rather brazenly, stating they'd rather deal with Bush than Obama is not good for Mr. Obama's image as the great uniter.

The democrats are starting to find that they can't have it both ways when it comes to America's world standing. You can't be a "kinder, gentler giant" in one area and a protectionist thug in another, and have everyone base their opinion on the kinder side of things. Hillary Clinton's own polling profiles should tell her that.

One problem that Zakaria has, as do a lot of Americans, is confusing politics with leadership, and the electorate with people who will do their homework. In both cases the it's a poor assumption.

And isn't the point of leadership to educate and elevate people, not to pander and drag them into the swamp of ignorance and fear? There is a way to speak about the pain of globalization - and about the need for investments in retraining, education, health care and infrastructure - so that we can compete but also absorb the shocks of a changing global economy. Unfortunately, that is not what the Democratic candidates are talking about.

Yes, that is the point of leadership, but politics point is to get votes, regardless of how you do it, especially in primaries. One of the ironies of our election process is how many times in the last 20 years candidates have been burned for "flip-flopping" positions from the primaries to the general election season, and how they continue to do it.

In 1950 it was easy to say something in Dallas on a campaign stop and have it not heard anywhere else. Then when the convention came around the candidate could take a more populist, across the aisle stance, and no one would be the wiser. It doesn't work that way anymore, YouTube, CNN, Fox, MSNBC (for both viewers) are their 24/7.

Then again, both candidates on the Democratic ballot are running their campaigns on the trade topic as if it's the 1930's; both in substance (protectionism), and in their obvious belief that what's said in Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas or Pawtucket won't be heard outside those cities.

Too bad for them that it's not 70 years ago, that protectionism has been proven to be an economic disaster, and that the Internet and satellites exit. Editors will continue to run articles about how poor a position they've taken, and trade partners will continue to talk about the apprehension of having either of them in office.

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