White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been telling Democrats a win on the health issue will reverse the slide in public opinion, just as passage of another controversial proposal, the North American Free Trade Agreement, lifted President Bill Clinton in the polls.In one narrow sense, Rahm's analogy is apt: NAFTA was controversial at the time of its passage in 1993, just as ObamaCare is today. But beyond that, this is one horrendous comparison. First, most polls show that approval of NAFTA among US citizens actually declined after its passage, and it remains low today. For this reason, many politicians - including the one currently residing in the White House - have used NAFTA demagoguery (often successfully, unfortunately) as a campaign tool. So if ObamaCare ends up polling like NAFTA after passage, the Dems are going to choke on it for decades, regardless of how successful it ends up being (which it won't be, of course).
That basic reality aside, comparing ObamaCare to NAFTA is flat-out absurd on pretty much every other level. Consider just the following few examples:
- NAFTA's passage was a very bipartisan effort: it passed the House with 102 Democrats and 132 Republicans, and had similar bipartisan support in the Senate. By contrast, it is likely that the final version of ObamaCare passes the House and Senate with no more than 1 or 2 Republican votes. (This further supports the idea that if ObamaCare ends up polling like NAFTA, the Dems alone will suffer for it.)
- On a similar note, NAFTA also wasn't rammed through the Senate in the middle of a Sunday night just a few days before Christmas. ObamaCare... well, we all know how that went down, now don't we?
- NAFTA cut taxes (i.e., tariffs on Canadian and Mexican products) for all Americans, and thus reduced costs for basic necessities like food and clothing. ObamaCare, on the other hand, is projected to increase taxes on targeted classes of Americans and to increase health care costs across the board.
- NAFTA was fundamentally about expanding Americans' freedom - by lowering barriers to trade - to enter into voluntary, mutually beneficial transactions with their Mexican and Canadian counterparts. By contrast, ObamaCare dramatically restricts American freedoms - for example, through forcing individuals to carry insurance, or mandating insurance policies' coverage and prices, or dictating doctors' fees. The list goes on and on. (As such, even if NAFTA were passed against Americans' will, it was appropriate: it was increasing their freedoms and reducing government intervention, not taking liberty away and dramatically extending the reach of the State.)
And as for the Democrats in the House and Senate who are dumb enough to fall for this nonsensical spin, let's hope that NAFTA is similar to ObamaCare in only one sense: that the American public never grows fond of this monstrosity, and thus that the Dems are forced to eat their votes in 2010 and for many, many years thereafter.
UPDATE: John Fund points out another mistake in Emanuel's comparison: Clinton's approval ratings actually declined post-NAFTA.