The first 20 seconds of the ad are pretty standard political fluff: there's Cal in the NC State Senate; Cal in Iraq; Cal with President Obama; and the voiceover is Cunningham on fighting for North Carolina and America, blah blah blah. But around the 18-second mark, Cal appears on a dusty Carolina road and says the following gem:
Now I'm running for the US Senate to fight a different kind of war - against unfair trade deals with China, and tax giveaways that send North Carolina jobs overseas.So to recap: in a 30-second ad, the candidate spends 17 seconds on himself and then spends the remaining 10 seconds on his plans to restore the US economy and create jobs in North Carolina. And Cunningham's brilliant solution to what's arguably America's biggest current challenge? Nothing but rampant protectionism. Awesome.
Now, I've gone over many times now how misguided such protectionism is - from both a economic and moral perspective. But what's even more ridiculous about this ad is that the candidate vows to fight against - wait for it - something that doesn't even exist. Before we get to that absurdity, however, let's tackle the classic political canard about "ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas." As I've noted here (and here and here and here), this standard trope is complete drivel for (at least) four basic reasons: (i) the idea that hordes of American jobs are being outsourced to Mexico or China or India is a complete economic fiction; (ii) those evil "tax breaks" for US multinational corporations actually increase American jobs; (iii) raising these taxes on American companies would be devastating for the US economy (great WSJ op-ed here on this point); and (iv) the candidates' proposed "solution" - ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas - is utterly unworkable. In sum: this is hackneyed political demagoguery and little more. (And I wonder about how all of those multinational companies, and their workers, in North Carolina would feel about these facts and Cal's stated position.)
Amazingly, however, it's a minor flaw compared to Cunningham's first vow - to fight "against unfair trade deals with China." Well, there's one rather big problem with this big promise: the United States has no trade "deals" with China, and we have no plans to enter into any such agreements. Indeed, China is one of the top targets of US trade protection (through trade remedies proceedings), and our current President has imposed prohibitive tariffs on Chinese tires and routinely criticizes the country's currency policies. The only thing even remotely close to a "trade deal with China" would, I guess, be the Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) legislation passed back in 2000 to cement China's accession to the WTO (and to give the US the benefits of China's new WTO market access commitments). But PNTR was a unilateral US action, not an "agreement with China."
So what in the world is "Senator Cal Cunningham" going to fight against?
Nothing, it appears. But, of course, that's not the point. In China, Cunningham has this decade's great foreign bogeyman, and polls show that a majority of Americans are suspicious of US trade agreements, and most people aren't obsessive trade geeks like me who know that we don't have any sort of "trade agreement" with China. So what's a little white lie about a "China trade agreement" if it can scare up a few more votes from an under-informed electorate, right? Right?
But, hey, at least we now know where Cal Cunningham stands on free trade - whether it's real or make-believe. And in the process, we've maybe learned a little more about whether he plans to run a principled Senate campaign over the next few months. Unfortunately, neither of these answers appears to be a good thing for North Carolina or the country.