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The Left’s Free Trade Freak Out Is Not About Trade

There is perhaps no more prolific liberal conceit than the notion that their concerns are shared by the masses they purport to represent. Take your pick: “women’s health,” AKA access to elective abortions, climate change, police militarization, et cetera. The left has at one point seen each of these as the most urgent of matters, and has insisted that the vast majority of thinking Americans would necessarily agree. Only the latest example of this myopia is the left’s collective freak out over the nature of free international trade agreements, and specifically a proposed trade deal with a variety of Asian nations. But like so many other matters of paramount importance to the left, they simply don’t resonate outside the vast and comfortable liberal bubble.

Before we achieve escape velocity and take a look at the world beyond the center-left media complex, it’s worth reviewing the apoplexy that the latest proposed free trade agreement has inspired on the left.

“Free trade isn’t about trade,” The Nation’s Mike Konczal revealed. “Free trade is about bureaucrats. And guns.”

“Why, in the year 2015, is the White House teaming up with Republican leaders essentially to defend the practice of slavery?” a team of Huffington Post reporters asked, citing an element of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that now includes Malaysia despite the prolific human trafficking that occurs in that nation.

Some liberals have even noted without a hint of irony or self-awareness that the pro-trade side of the aisle is guilty of stoking undue fears to advance their agenda. “At a news conference earlier this month, Obama warned that without TPP, ‘China will set up rules that advantage Chinese workers and Chinese businesses,’” The New Republic’s David Dayen scoffed. “Clinton/Obama free trade agreements are not just good in their own right, but models for the world to follow. Veterans of both administrations will admit that didn’t work for NAFTA; why should we believe it for TPP?”

And, of course, progressive icon and Bay State Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ongoing efforts to undermine a Democratic White House that seeks authority to ink necessarily opaque free trade agreements has heightened the left’s sense of urgency on the matter.

The apocalyptic tone of the internecine spat over this relatively parochial issue has been perhaps amplified by the fact that, as this presidency winds to a close, the far left is consumed not with Barack Obama’s achievements but the opportunities he failed to take full advantage of over the course of his tenure.

Now let’s ascend to cruising altitude and take a look at how the rest of the nation views the left’s wildly disproportionate fit of pique over a prospective trade deal. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the vast majority of Americans are generally favorable toward free trade agreements. 58 percent of all Americans, including a majority of every subgroup sampled, believe free trade is good for the United States. That includes 58 percent of self-described Democrats, and 59 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats.

Interestingly, the groups most predisposed to view free trade arrangements with suspicion are those who identify as conservative Republicans and those age 65 or older. But 50 percent of both of these constituencies still see trade as ultimately beneficial. “There are only modest partisan differences on views of free trade agreements’ effects on economic growth, with Republicans somewhat more likely (40%) than either Democrats (30%) or independents (32%) to say they slow the economy,” Pew revealed.

Given this revelation, where is the uproar from Republican circles over the extension of trade promotional authority to President Barack Obama from a GOP-dominated Congress? While it certainly exists, the concern over free trade is far more muted on the right than the polls would suggest it should be. So, what gives? In part, the energy being expended on the left over a trade deal that Democrats largely support is a proxy war over the future ideological and programmatic direction of the Democratic Party. The fierceness of this family feud is certainly not justified by the general public’s interest in the subject.

So, the next time that you see Democrats engaged in heated debate over the issue of free trade and wonder where the passion comes from given the disinterest outside of media circles, remember that they’re probably not talking about trade.



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