President Bill Clinton had to fight many powerful lobbying groups to win approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. None was more imposing than that most Democratic of constituencies, organized labor. Clinton stood up to the unions: He publicly condemned the AFL-CIO for its roughshod, muscle-bound tactics against undecided Democratic members of Congress. In the end, he was rewarded for his persistence. Not only did NAFTA pass, but Clinton won reelection in 1996 - with the unions support. Fourteen years after NAFTA was approved, the case for free trade remains the same. Though it imposes costly dislocations on workers in less-competitive industries, it benefits the country as a whole by increasing efficiency. Over time, the result is more jobs and lower prices.
Yet Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., seems to have forgotten her husbands winning formula. Campaigning for president, she has been busily repudiating his legacy on free trade, voting against the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement in the Senate and backing away from NAFTA. In an interview published Tuesday by USA Today, she called for a timeout on further trade agreements until their impact can be fully studied. Sen. Clinton even suggested that it might be time for NAFTA to be adjusted. Her reasoning was not terribly clear: This is a candidate, after all, who has voted in favor of free-trade deals with Singapore and Chile. She suggested that perhaps something changed between the end of the 20th century, when trade was a net positive for America and American workers and now, when we need to have a serious conversation about that.
She did not, however, take the opportunity to contribute to such a conversation herself. Instead, her comments amount to little more than a faint me, too in response to the trade-bashing of former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., a rival of Clinton in the Iowa caucuses.
- Washington Post
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