Where are we as far as economic policy and the Democratic party, and where are we likely to end up should the Democrats gain control of the White House (as well as extend their majorities in the Senate and House)? What is the effect upon the rank and file of the Democratic Party?
“Free trade” has produced some of the most contentious political debates of our times. In a famous April 2000 article in the New Republic, economist Joseph Stiglitz argued, “Economic policy is today perhaps the most important part of America’s interaction with the rest of the world. And yet the culture of international economic policy in the world’s most powerful democracy is not democratic.” During the Bush years, economic policy has received far less attention in political discussion than before; the use of military force took center stage. However, the trade and development debate went on, and it continues to affect fundamental questions of global poverty, inequality, and opportunity. Under a new Democratic administration-or under a Republican administration that demotes the neocons in favor of the more traditional, realist foreign policy establishment-it is likely that economic policy will again become the most important part of America’s interaction with the world. And it is likely that it will remain profoundly undemocratic.
Will the Democrats provide an economic policy which is more fair to our trading partners as well as to the citizens of the US? That’s an important question for the upcoming general election. If the answer is ‘yes’, then there is a possibility that ‘hope’ and ‘change’ will be good for the American people. Of course, we’ll still have the neo-liberal cadre at the top of the Congressional part of the Party, so this ‘change’ will come with a tooth and nail fight.
One of the major accomplishments of the Clinton administration was to move to the fore of the Party a faction led by the centrist, corporate-friendly Democratic Leadership Council. Working with pro-“free trade” Republicans, Clinton and the DLC made passing the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 and approving U.S. entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994 into bipartisan crusades. The coalition in favor of corporate globalization was always tenuous, however. In recent years, especially as the Bush administration implemented an increasing belligerent foreign policy, the “free trade” coalition has frayed.
Ah, NAFTA and the WTO. Two things to remember about centerist Democrats and what they’ve given us on the trade front. Sure, we get more money from the corps and business class, but it was at the cost of selling our collective souls. To end our relationship with both would be a good first step. I wonder how our possible nominees for President will act toward them (answer: ‘fix’ not ditch).
When the Democrats swept the November 2006 elections and regained control of Congress, many of the victorious campaigns featured prominent pledges to oppose pro-corporate trade policy. In an excellent post-election analysis, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch documented a major defeat for the “free trade” coalition. Its report tracked seven senate races and 28 House contests in which “fair trade” advocates ousted “free trade” incumbents or won open seats previously held by advocates of neoliberal deals. In contrast, no fair trade incumbents were unseated.
Do you want a winning campaign issue for November on both the Congressional and Presidential levels? Opposition to a pro-corporate trade policy is one. How many adopters will there be?
Whether the wave of revulsion against corporation globalization will propel a lasting change in Democratic policy-making will depend largely on figures like Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY), House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who became chair of the Senate Finance Committee. These political chiefs certainly do not represent the fair trade activists at the base of their party. In late 2006, President Bush visited Vietnam the week before Thanksgiving, and he hoped to bring with him news of Congressional approval of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with that country. This measure would have served as a stepping stone to a free trade deal and an endorsement of Vietnam’s entry into the WTO. It didn’t happen. The bill failed to secure the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, with many emboldened Democrats rallying to defeat it. The New York Times declared that the vote, which was supposed to be an easy victory, instead signaled “a deep disappointment and embarrassment for the White House.”
There have been some victories, but our House leadership hasn’t been part of them. Keep that in mind if you are a voter who votes the D by the name rather than by the actions of the legislator. A neo-liberal trade policy is bad, whether it be pushed by Republicans or by Democrats.
It may prove a temporary setback, however. Both Pelosi and Rangel voted in favor of the Vietnam trade legislation, and promoters of the measure would like to see it resurrected. In May 2007, Democratic leaders announced that they had brokered a deal with the White House to resume the bipartisan push for “free trade” agreements, ostensibly with stronger labor and environmental provisions attached. True to form, the deal was negotiated in secret, without input from environmental, labor, or public interest groups-or even participation from the majority of Democratic lawmakers who view the “free trade” agenda with suspicion. What the agreement will mean in practice, and whether opposition lawmakers and the citizens who put them into office will accept the Bush-Rangel deal, is still being determined.
Need we say more?
Debates over international trade and development policy can often seem distant to most people. Yet the battle within the Democratic Party shows that these issues matter a great deal to Americans as well as citizens overseas. Under the market fundamentalist policies of neoliberalism, the international economy has been managed for the benefit of a very narrow slice of the population. It has placed the U.S. Treasury and the International Monetary Fund in positions as economic overseers on a global plantation. This type of domination goes against the values of all those who decry sweatshop economics abroad.
But, man, my clothes are inexpensive as I could ask for. That’s a result of our plantation mentality. I wonder how many workers who produce your clothes get a fair living wage?
Sadly, neoliberal economics are not the exclusive purview of Republicans. Indeed, given the Bush administration’s international recklessness, an increasing number of corporate elites are turning to the Democrats to implement their economic agenda. In a front-page story entitled, “GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote,” The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2007 that the party could be facing a brand crisis as “[s]ome business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don’t share.” Their defections will only increase tensions within the Democratic Party.
I wonder if the Democrats on the national stage can sell us out even more? My guess is that as long as the funding keeps rolling in, they’ll try. Good for the pols, bad for the general populace.
The ongoing battle in Washington has made clear that many centrist Democrats who denounce Bush’s imperial globalization would be all too eager to return to Clinton’s pro-corporate vision for the global economy if given the chance. But it also indicates that their position may not be as politically viable as it once was. A decade and a half after NAFTA moved the trade debate to the fore of political discussion, the broken promises of “free trade” agreements are making neoliberalism’s “clouds of gold” ever harder to sell.
Which side do you come down on? Cheap products which aren’t produced in the US and cause economic misery in much of the world, or products produced here in the US and abroad which, while they may be more expensive, provide jobs and a living wage for those doing the production?
The answer may be one that sets the stage for how our economy grows or stagnates for the next presidential term. Here’s a hint as to where I stand:
Originally posted here: http://rjones2818.blogspot.com/2008/…