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Look Who's Afraid of Free Trade

- Abstract

Over the past year, the Democratic candidates for President have settled on two core themes. One is that the Iraq war was a disastrous foreign-policy error from which the country must be extricated expeditiously—a proposition on which they differ only in the details. The other represents less a policy conviction than a profound change in the basic political philosophy of the party ever since its founding in the late 1820’s. As against one of their party’s oldest traditions, the 2008 Democrats are in general agreement that free trade is no longer in the economic interests of the United States.

To justify this shift, all of the Democratic candidates point to the unacceptably high cost imposed by jobs going to low-wage countries, and the impact this has had on wages here. To reverse these alarming realities, all suggest that our national attitude toward trade policy must change. Thus, Hillary Clinton has called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “a mistake,” even though her husband, fifteen years ago, made it a signature issue of the first year of his presidency and worked hard and successfully to get it through a reluctant Congress. Barack Obama, for his part, recently voted in the Senate against a new free-trade agreement with Central America and against a similar one with Peru, even though that country’s GDP is less than 1 percent of that of the United States. “Our trade policy,” John Edwards declares flatly, “has been bad for working Americans,” while Dennis Kucinich, the most unabashedly left-wing of the candidates, merely extends the views of the others in proposing not only to cancel NAFTA but to pull the United States out of the World Trade Organization, one of the proudest achievements of post-World War II diplomacy.

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