August 5, 2007


The Democrats Dither on Trade (David Ignatius, August 5, 2007, Washington Post)

Once upon a time, it was an article of faith for most Democrats that free trade would produce a virtuous cycle of rising living standards abroad, greater political stability and increased demand for American exports. You can find a symbol of that old Democratic consensus in the front lobby of the Inter-American Development Bank, where there is a bust of President John F. Kennedy. His "Alliance for Progress" embodied the idea that trade liberalization would help contain radicalism in Latin America.

For many Democrats, that faith in free trade has been undermined by job losses associated with economic globalization. As David Brooks of the New York Times has noted, the public increasingly sees open markets and open borders as part of an unfair economic system that benefits the elites but harms working people. Within the Republican base, that anger surfaces in opposition to immigration legislation. Among Democrats, it takes the form of opposition to trade legislation.

The leading Democratic candidates understand that the issue is a minefield, and they are walking on tiptoes. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005. Clinton has said she wants a "time out" on trade deals to study their impact on American workers. It's the economic issue on which she differs most sharply from the record of her husband, who as president championed the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But Democrats aren't isolationist in their souls. They instinctively want to be the party of openness and development. "The Democrats are groping for a constructive trade policy," says Nancy Birdsall, the president of the Center for Global Development. "They want to keep the unions on their side, but they recognize we have to make adjustments to a global market."

That's quite wrong, of course. A party driven by emotion and wholly owned by unions, peaceniks, and dependents of the State can't help but be isolationist in its soul. The problem is it no longer has any leaders who are at least free traders and crusaders in their heads.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2007 9:54 AM
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