Thursday, July 07, 2005

Death of bipartisanship

The most interesting thread of the trade discussion placed blame for the Democrats’ abandonment of free trade on … Republicans. The Bush administration and Republican congressional leadership have, in their usual style, neither brought Hill Democrats into the process of crafting free trade agreements nor actively sought their support. That means that CAFTA is essentially a Republican document, with some of the usual giveaways to business and only pro forma nods to labor and the environment. In other words, not something even many free trade Dems can comfortably support.

Daniel Drezner notes that with the disappearance of traditional forms of bipartisanship – and their replacement by occasional alignments between ideologues of both parties - it was inevitable that the open trade agenda would be undermined:

The shifting politics of trade and immigration are another, more prenicious example of this new bipartisanship, by the way. Trade was your classic centrist issue that generated support from centrists on both sides of the aisle. Today, liberal Democrats oppose trade expansion and relatively open immigration because they fear the effects on unions and the working class. Conservative Republicans oppose trade expansion and relatively open immigration because of fears about global interdependence and the loss of sovereignty.

The result: a weakening Congressional support for an open economy.

How can Democrats recapture the initiative on trade? Options are limited. One way might be to defeat CAFTA in hopes of forcing the Bushies to the table the next time around (though that scenario is hard to imagine), or wait for a Democratic presidential nominee to redefine the party on the issue.