Commentary Magazine


NAFTA, Obama, and The Politics of Disingenuousness

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last week took turns smashing NAFTA with rhetorical baseball bats as though it were a birthday pinata that had failed to open and pour its goodies out on the heads of unfortunate Ohioans. Hillary was forced, during that debate, to address the fact that she was lying through her teeth about the whole business, since she had said in 2004 that NAFTA had been good for America. This left Obama seemingly alone as an honest-to-goodness free-trade-basher. Then came the news that Obama’s chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, had told the Canadian consul in Chicago that Obama didn’t mean what he was saying about NAFTA – and several days of backing and forthing, with the Canadians saying yes indeed Goolsbee had said it and Goolsbee saying he hadn’t said it that way. And of course Goolsbee is lying, because what possible incentive could the Canadian consul in Chicago have had to misrepresent their conversation in a private memo?

The proposals being offered in Ohio by the Democrats — pausing NAFTA, reopening NAFTA, doodling on NAFTA likethe treaty was a menu at Applebee’s — are not remotely serious, and will not be undertaken by either candidate should either candidate become president. What they are talking about cannot be done. NAFTA has the status of settled international law. We could abrogate it entirely, perhaps, but we cannot revise it at will, since there are two other signatories to it who might object to such a ploy.

More important than that, those two signatories (Mexico and Canada) are our largest trading partners, and it is not believable that two candidates who claim their primary foreign-policy platform is to correct the international image of the United States as a buccaneering unilateralist will actually dedicate a presidency to an act of buccaneering unilateralism the likes of which the world has never before seen.

Democrats are trying to ignite populist fire among voters in rust-belt states, and are doing so with an astonishing degree of disingenuousness. The only comparable act of disingenuousness I can think of is the repeated promise, made by Bill Clinton and by George W. Bush in election years as they hungered after Jewish contributions, that they would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. They said it, knowing full well they would never actually attempt it, and my guess is, somebody will say it again this year too. And not do it.