Bill Clinton may have had his faults, but on trade he was superlative. He refused to pander to the squeaky wheels demanding protection from foreign imports, and pushed vigorously to open U.S. and foreign markets to increased trade . . . Unfortunately, President Bush made the opposite political calculation, as have Democratic senators John Kerry and John Edwards, the leading contenders to replace him in November. All seem to be engaged in a race to the bottom, to see who can pander more to the unemployed by blaming all their woes on foreigners. They should remember that Clinton was highly successful electorally by making the opposite political calculation.This is particularly interesting because I just had this discussion with my father (a solid Democrat) last week. I criticized Kerry and Edwards for their moves toward protectionism, and praised Clinton (I don't think he'd ever heard me do that) as a counterexample. Clinton's legacy, after all the self-referential talk of such, may just come down to that: He was a free-trader, something the Democrats can't seem to find this year. (Okay, except for Joe Lieberman; and his call for free trade wasn't exactly burnin' them up on the stump.)
My father's only response was to hit Bush for his own protectionism. True enough, but if protectionism is now a good thing, shouldn't Democrats be praising Bush's attempts to sheild timber, steel, and, lately, sugar?