Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Caftarama

The Democrats’ long meandering path toward opposing free trade is a troubling thing, not least because the pressure to open up trade is only going to intensify. Negotiated trade agreements are still the best way to ensure that globalization doesn’t run roughshod over the poor and the displaced. If Democrats drop out of this game, the poor and displaced will be worse off, not better. And a tactical policy to oppose the most important agreements – those with developing nations – for all the usual reasons (environment, labor, outsourcing, putting the hurt on Bush) is no policy at all. That's not to say that these aren't genuine issues, just that the die-hard free trade opponents in the Democratic camp don't really have workable solutions to them - except to kill trade agreements.

In the long run, that's a losing electoral strategy as well. Opposition to free trade is heavily interest-group driven, and the urge to throw bones to dozens of groups is something the Democrats should think twice about before they make it a centerpiece of their economic policy. As Kerry found out, it's hard to integrate the anti-trade position into a forward-looking message for the Democratic Party.