June 12, 2014
Of course. Abysmal Supreme Court picks? Check. A giant step forward on the path
to single-payer healthcare? Taken. Hiking the national debt from
$10.6 trillion to $17.6 trillion? Done.
Yes, all things
considered, the guy he replaced was probably worse. But Barack Obama has attained his
own kind of calamitousness. Fortunately, the community-organizer-in-chief
leaves office in two and a half years. And facing both unexceptional
job-approval numbers and likely Republican congressional gains in November,
he will be nearly impotent as his presidency winds down.
If Obama wants
to devote a sizable chunk of his remaining time to something that promotes
economic growth and is certain to draw bipartisan support, he’ll seize the
opportunity that free trade offers. While it garners scant attention -- the neoconservative
entertainment complex prefers to cover White House scandals and
pseudo-scandals, while the moonbat media
obsesses over same-sex marriage, climate change, and income inequality -- important
developments are underway in the global crusade to vanquish protectionism.
Partnership began as an attempt by Chile,
New Zealand, Brunei, and Singapore to remove trade barriers.
A major expansion is planned, one that includes the U.S.
and fellow heavyweights Japan,
Canada, Mexico, and Australia. It would be, in Cargill
CEO David MacLennan’s words, “the largest free trade agreement in the world.” (China’s
not invited, yet.)
Another pact, the
Trade and Investment Partnership, doesn’t hold as much promise -- obstacles
are fewer, and economic interconnectedness deeper, between America and Europe.
the Office of the U. S. Trade Representative argues, “In today’s highly
competitive global marketplace, even small increases in a product’s cost due to
tariffs can mean the difference between winning and losing a contract.”
An aggressive effort
to advance free trade sounds like a no-brainer for Obama’s fourth quarter. But the
president has always been of two minds on the issue. As a candidate, he pledged
to renegotiate NAFTA. In office, he immediately flip-flopped, because “as the
economy of the world” deteriorated, he considered “beggar-thy-neighbor policies”
unwise. George W. Bush left behind ready-to-go trade agreements with several
countries, but his
successor’s bungling and political calculations delayed votes in Congress.
(Eventually, deals with Panama,
Colombia, and the Republic of Korea were approved.) In the 2012
campaign, Mitt Romney justly dinged his opponent for not signing “one new
free-trade agreement in the past four years.”
ambivalence is explained by the contrast between what he was and what he’s
ideologues despise free trade. Union bosses resist the diminution of their
political power -- and worry about losing lucrative compensation packages -- if
workers they “represent” suffer. Eco-fabulists are terrified that more imports
of food and manufactured goods will worsen carbon
“pollution,” and fear that America’s oil-and-gas abundance might create a
new energy-export superpower. (The Sierra Club huffs that increased LNG
shipments “would mean a significant increase of domestic hydraulic fracturing,
or fracking, the dirty and violent process that dislodges gas deposits from
shale rock formations and is known to contaminate drinking water and pollute
the air we breathe.”)
Obama made his
bones as a liberal agitator. He rarely opposes ideological allies. But as chief
executive, he’s spent time with and enjoyed support from hedge-fund,
private-equity, and Wall Street folks, as well as Silicon
Valley moguls and executives with multinational corporations.
That’s a group of people who adore
Conform to true
believers’ demands, or give in to the business community. Tough choice. The
quandary explains why Daniel R. Pearson, of the Cato Institute, lamented that “the
Obama team has not developed a compelling and economically sound argument on
behalf of open global markets.” Hardly surprising, since it appears that “no
official of cabinet level or higher has the experience, understanding, and
commitment required to make a vigorous case in favor of trade liberalization.”
administration gets its mind right on trade, it can count on substantial
support from Congress. The GOP is light on protectionists, and a fair amount of
Democrats are pro-globalization. (In a recent
conversation with the Wisconsin State Journal, Rep. Ron Kind mentioned a
statistic sure to be startling to many: The U.S. has bilateral agreements with
20 countries, and posts a manufacturing-agriculture-services surplus with the group.)
Even in the labyrinthine
and ponderous world of trade negotiations, two and a half years is a long time.
Unwilling to fix the debacle that is the “Affordable Care Act,” Obama needs to
focus on a tangible and achievable goal before noon
on January 20, 2017. Meaningful progress on free trade would do nicely.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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