THE SPINE OCTOBER 5, 2007
Many Republicans are desperate about all of their party's potential
nominees for president. And they are worried because of the signature
issue for serious conservatives, and that is free trade. None of them are
actually for it. And, apparently, none of the Democrats are either. Bill
Clinton may be. But Mrs. Clinton is not, as the New York Sun pointed out
earlier this week.
Mrs. Clinton has come under pressure from her rivals for the Democratic nomination, who have stepped up their criticism of free trade and NAFTA in particular. The former first lady has distanced herself from the legacy of NAFTA, but she has done so without faulting her husband's administration.
"I have said that for many years, that, you know, NAFTA and the way it's been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers," she said at an AFL-CIO presidential forum in August. She said she was for "smart trade," "pro-American trade," and she touted her opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement and to giving the president "fast-track" authority to negotiate future trade pacts.
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal cites a poll it had done revealing
that six out of ten Republicans thought free trade has been bad for the country.
Such a stance is sure to face a challenge in the 2008 general election. Though President Bill Clinton famously steered the Democratic Party toward a less-protectionist bent and promoted the North American Free Trade Agreement, his wife and the current Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has adopted more skeptical rhetoric. Mrs. Clinton has come out against a U.S. trade deal with South Korea.
Other leading Democrats have been harshly critical of trade expansion, pleasing their party's labor-union backers. In a March 2007 WSJ/NBC poll, before recent scandals involving tainted imports, 54% of Democratic voters said free-trade agreements have hurt the U.S., compared with 21% who said they have helped.
This perception is very bad for the country, very bad, and false.
The New York Sun proposes a remedy in "Mr. Gore's Moment," and it is that
Gore should announce his candidacy for president and run.
Enter Vice President Gore. It may seem like ancient history, what with Mr. Gore's current reputation as an anti-global-warming crusader, but back during the NAFTA debate of the early 1990s, Mr. Gore was one of the Clinton administration's most credible and effective spokesmen for free trade. It was Mr. Gore's November 1993 debate against Ross Perot about NAFTA, moderated by Larry King, that reportedly garnered one of the highest ratings in the history of the Cable News Network and that sealed the pact's approval, days later, in Congress. Aside from his vote for the first Gulf War, it was the Tennessean's finest hour.
Were Mr. Gore to re-engage today in the debate on trade policy, he'd have plenty of strong arguments to offer. He could point out that the number of American jobs has grown by about 26 million since Mr. Clinton signed NAFTA, to 146 million from 120 million. He could point out that the unemployment rate when Mr. Clinton signed NAFTA in December of 1993 was a seasonally adjusted 6.5% and that there hasn't been a December since then with an unemployment rate above 6%. The most recently reported rate, for August of 2007, stood at 4.6%. So much for the "giant sucking sound" that Mr. Perot predicted would echo from all the American jobs going to Mexico.
I also want Al Gore to run for president. But that's no surprise. That
the Sun wants him to run is.
He would draw much support from both parties...and independents, too.