Democrats seeking to regain footing among middle-class voters are putting trade anxiety at the forefront of new campaign messages, challenging free-trade deals backed by the White House and linking Republicans to corporate outsourcing....Anybody who paid attention to last year's special elections in Massachusetts, Hawaii or New York would understand quite well that today's Democrats, in particular Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), love to pull out the scary-but-utterly false China/outsourcing/NAFTA cards anytime an election becomes a little too close for comfort. Indeed, even a certain hope-tastic junior Senator from Illinois morphed into a rabid protectionist during the 2008 presidential election, and look where that got him? As the same WSJ article notes:
In southern Virginia, embattled Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello has put his opposition to the Korea deal and outsourcing at the center of his re-election pitch. In his manufacturing-heavy district in Illinois, Democratic Rep. Phil Hare attacks Washington for easing trade ties with China.
Opposing free-trade deals is a common election-year tactic for Democrats, who rely on labor unions for financial support and grassroots activism. With polls showing the party losing crucial working-class voters in dozens of House districts and broad disapproval of the Democrats' economic agenda in Washington, strategists now see trade as their most effective weapon in minimizing election losses.So, again, none of this news is really surprising. What is surprising, however, is that this new round of campaign ads has pushed the trade fearmongering to a whole new level. Nevermind for a second that the ads are completely false, and that the benefits of free trade (and the falsehoods about outsourcing and China trade) are undeniable. Instead, let's just take a moment to look at how low our elected representatives (and those eager to represent us) have gone.
Seriously, folks, it's Halloween come early across the country, and the trick-or-treaters are out in force:
Mr. Perriello's new ad depicts a dark-suited U.S. businessman standing in front of an Asian factory, thanking the Republican challenger, state Sen. Robert Hurt, for "protecting the tax loophole that gives a company like ours a kickback for sending jobs overseas."
Mr. Hare's spot shows a picture of his GOP challenger, Bobby Schilling, alongside the image of an Asian woman wearing a head set—an apparent reference to an Asian call center....
Democratic candidates in Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Indiana, New York and California have launched similar ads in recent days. Others are decrying the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement and expressing opposition to a Korea deal.But hey, don't just take my (or the WSJ's) word for it. Check out Hare's ad for yourself:
Translation: China is coming for your jobs unless you vote for me. Pretty nice ad during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, huh? Or how about this classy one from Ohio Senate candidate Lee Fisher (about whom we've already discussed at length):
That's right, people of Ohio, Rob Portman is coming for your jobs! Be afraid! Be very, very afraid! Ooogaboogaboogabooga-ooooooooh!!
Or not, as this excellent editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer makes clear:
Former President Bill Clinton was to campaign with Democratic Senate candidate Lee Fisher in Cincinnati Sunday night. The two have a long relationship: Back in 1991, when Clinton was little known beyond Arkansas, Fisher -- then Ohio's attorney general -- offered to lead his presidential effort in Ohio.Well, of course he does, Plain Dealer Editors. But he's campaigning, you see, and the facts - like the small one about how all of those China jobs stats from the union-run Economic Policy Institute are total garbage - don't sell in November. Fear, on the other hand, apparently does, especially now.
So let's hope that if Clinton got a glimpse of Fisher's first general election ad, he took his old friend aside and gave him a quick lesson in history and economics.
The ad is a broadside aimed at Republican nominee Rob Portman -- one in which Fisher's not mentioned until the disclaimer at the end. Although it cites Portman's time as George W. Bush's budget director, its focus -- as much as any 30-second spot can have a focus -- is on trade, and especially on trade with China.
There are images of Chinese workers -- in ominous black-and-white, no less -- of Portman shaking hands with a Chinese official and of a Chinese flag that fills the entire screen. The ad blames Portman for the loss of 100,000 jobs to China during his time as U.S. trade representative.
The report cited by Fisher's campaign estimates that it took six years -- between 2001 and 2007 -- for Ohio to lose that many jobs to China. Portman was trade rep for all of one year. But the big message that Fisher is selling is that trade, especially with China, is bad for Ohio. That has long been gospel to some Democratic constituencies, but it's also a mindset that Clinton fought.
Clinton believed that America's economic future depended on robust trade with emerging markets in the Far East. He expended enormous political capital to get China into the World Trade Organization. And that opening helped Ohio firms raise their exports to China six-fold between 2000 and 2009. Exports sustain many thousands of manufacturing jobs in Ohio -- a fact that Fisher proudly touted when he was the state's development director.
The problems in U.S.-China trade, including currency values and China's cheating on trade rules, won't be solved by withdrawing from the arena or by fear-mongering. Clinton has known that for a long time. Does Fisher?
Of course, some of the Democrats' protectionist hate would probably die down a little if President Obama - the leader of the Democratic Party, and a guy who, by the way, has voiced his support for pending FTAs with Korea, Colombia and Panama - just came out and reiterated that support. Oh, wait:
Mr. Obama has avoided mentioning the Korea FTA on the campaign trail for weeks. A spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who is handling the Korea talks, declined to discuss them in detail.So the Democratic Obama administration - even the agency (USTR) charged with advancing American free trade interests - has remained silent while Democrats across the country demagogoue free trade and try to scare a vast majority of Americans into voting against their interests.
Separately, the White House has yet to resolve a trucking dispute with Mexico in which the country imposed tariffs on the U.S. after the president signed a measure favored by Democrats canceling a pilot program that allowed Mexican trucks to carry cargo on U.S. roads.
Stay classy, guys!
But, hey, don't be too upset, folks, because there's actually a reasonably big silver lining in all of these dark anti-trade clouds. The Democrats are on pace for losses of truly historic proportions in November 2010. And if/when that happens, it could go a long way to undermining the horribly misguided idea that protectionism sells in November. It might even cause the Democratic party to ditch the anti-trade strategy and begin to move back towards their pro-trade roots in folks like like Clinton, JFK, FDR and Cordell Hull.
Then again, maybe they won't. But, honestly, the Dems can't get any worse on trade than they are right now.