Monday, March 3, 2008

Obama and NAFTA (JM)

Hey all, sorry it's been so long between posts. Dennis and I were being inducted in to the Royal Order of the Golden Bison this weekend and so were, understandably, a little bit distracted. But here we are, back at it again.

So a little on a story that is just starting to get some press. Obama advisor, Austan Goolsbee, met with the Canadian Counsel in Chicago to discuss the upcoming rhetoric about NAFTA policy. There is some dispute about what was said, but the Counsel has been pretty clear that Goolsbee flat out asked the Canadians to disregard the NAFTA politics and know that, in the end, Obama would not be an anti-trade president. Goolsbee denies that this was the content of their conversation.

A few things are striking about this dust-up. First of all, it was very weird for Obama and his people to have straight denied that they had met with Canadian ambassador (which the original stories reported) and not mention they had met with the Canadian Counsel's Office in Chicago. This decision makes them look more like they have something to hide. Secondly, I fail to see why the Canadians have any interest in lying about or overstating this. Such a revelation can only work to their disadvantage should Obama get the nomination, he'll have to push hard against NAFTA to avoid looking like a typical politician. Maybe, I am missing an angle and I am open to correction, but it strikes me as a very believable story from that perspective. Finally, this is just another example of how screwed up our primary system is. By most accounts NAFTA is a favorable, though by no means perfect, policy. Massive job loss in places like Ohio, Michigan, Texas and Pennsylvania has very very little to do with NAFTA and much more to do with other institutional practices (as well as modernization). This is an issue I have address a bit more in other spaces on AOTG, but its relationship to the primary is critical. Because Ohio and, to a lesser extent Texas, are to play crucial roles in deciding our next president this becomes a bit issue and the positions on it have nothing to do with logic and assessment and everything to do with polling and political winds. It is akin to issues like ethanol and farm subsidies. By all accounts most politicians are on the incorrect sides of these issues, but because of this disproportionate influence of certain states when you have progressive primary, rather than a single day of voting, there are issues that get prioritized.

So it really opens up two questions to which I don't know the answer: 1) Will Obama's apparent apostasy on trade have a significant enough impact in Ohio and Texas to be a game changer?; 2) Will we see substantial electoral reform when this whole mess is over? We'll know the answer to the first tomorrow, but the second won't be for some time and it won't happen unless people begin advocating for it.

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