Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Free trade and the Democratic Party, continued

Whoa. I cross-posted a version of my trade post below on the TPM Cafe site, where it was "elevated" to a position on the home page for the latter part of the day. There, it was greeted with almost universal hostility. Not free traders, they.

But nobody really addresses my central concern, which is that there is no affirmative Democratic agenda on trade. With the political center blown up on trade like everything else, the issue has become an ever-bigger locus for the hostility of the traditional left - labor, people against "multinational corporations" and capitalism as a matter of principle, etc. This is a recipe for both policy and electoral failure.

I posted this comment on the site:

...I appreciate the objections to the current trade policy advanced by the Bush administration. Saying “no” to CAFTA and Bush-negotiated free trade agreements may well be sound policy in the short run. I would like to see tougher labor standards and better trade adjustment assistance, and a broader vision for how to address living standards in countries we trade with.

But most of the comments go well beyond the specifics of CAFTA or the negotiating strategy of the USTR's office and display a general hostility towards open trade, multinational corporations, etc., traditional targets of the left. I don’t hear much in the way of alternative approaches to trade. "Fair trade" is a nice concept, but is exceedingly vague. What should the default Democratic Party approach be? More tariffs and quotas? Wait until we have a Democratic president who can negotiate more equitable agreements?

Returning to the other point of the post, if there is no affirmative Democratic strategy on how to handle the challenge of globalization and open trade, especially with the developing world, then there is a big hole in the Democratic agenda. Bill Clinton was adept at harmonizing an open trade agenda with traditional Democratic concerns. Of course he sort of ran aground on the issue late in his presidency. But where are Clinton’s heirs on the issue? The fact that the pro-trade position has become almost untenable within the party is going to be a problem for the 2008 Democratic nominee.