Clinton and Obama’s heightened reservations about free trade—campaigning in the Rust Belt has that effect—couldn’t possibly be couched as concern for the American national interest.
What really vexes them about the Colombia Free Trade Agreement that President Bush just sent to Congress? Our $880-billion trade imbalance with the country? Rising unemployment rates? Evidence that recent free-trade deals have done us more harm than good? Nope. Try assassinated union organizers. In Colombia.
It’s a nifty play. Hillary—who decided while stumping in Ohio that she actually opposed NAFTA, her husband’s economic showpiece—gets to tell union crowds what they want to hear while avoiding charges of nativism. Ditto Obama, who announced to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO that he will vote against the deal “because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of labor protections.” Spoken like a good human-rights advocate; no protectionist taint there.
Writing in the NYT, Edward Schumacher-Matos points out that union killings have declined in recent years and calls the candidates’ opportune sympathy “more righteous that right.” That doesn’t mean their tactic hasn’t worked.
“Sobering stuff,” Ezra Klein shudders. Sobering indeed. So is the husk that used to be American industry. “Imagine a country where CEO’s live in fear,” Chris Hayes asks at The Nation. That would be bad, too. Murder is serious business. But is Colombian corruption our business?
President Bush thinks so. He urged Congress: “Approving the free-trade agreement is one of the most important ways America can demonstrate our support for Colombia.”
Americans expecting similar regard will find themselves out of luck. (And work.) If Democrats don’t sign on to the deal, the president has threatened to block Trade Adjustment Assistance, which offers aid and training to those whose jobs have been outsourced.
Either way, the same guys lose. No one dares take their side, lest he be accused of patriotism.