Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2004 / 1 Adar, 5764
The Democrats have
a free trade dilemma
John Edwards opened his New York primary campaign at Columbia University with an attack on outsourcing. "This is a moral issue," he said. "America should never enter into a trade agreement that allows an American corporation to pick up, leave America, go to another country and hire children to make their product. It's wrong."
Only a personal-damages lawyer would have the imagination to present free trade as a pact with the devil. Especially a Democratic personal-damages lawyer. After all, economic globalization was at the very heart of the policies - and prosperity - of the Clinton years.
But that was then. This is an election year. The issue of job outsourcing gives Edwards a chance to brag on his daddy, the mill worker.
It also gives him the opportunity to take a slap at John Kerry's Senate record of voting for free trade, including the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.
This has put Kerry on the defensive. Nobody wants to be accused of snatching jobs away from deserving American workers and giving them to foreigners. After all, foreigners don't vote.
They do, however, seethe. And they will when they find out that the Democratic Party wants to take away their jobs and give them back to American workers.
Edwards' high-minded rhetoric about the misuse of child labor won't convince anyone in the Third World. Since when do American politicians care about the welfare of the children of Asia and Africa and Latin America? Impoverished families need these jobs to eat - and Edwards would rather see them starved than exploited?
Keeping jobs in America may be a good election issue. But it won't impress the people in poor countries as a matter of high morality. And this presents a logical problem to the Democrats.
The Democrats intend to run this year against President Bush's unilateralist foreign policy. They claim Bush has alienated the world by acting alone, ignoring international opinion in favor of crude American self-interest.
As Dick Gephardt put it, "Bush doesn't play well with others."
Both Kerry and Edwards have made this argument, and Kerry is particularly committed to it. He's a life-long UN guy, an international coalitionist and a believer that anti-American terrorism has its roots in the frustrations of impoverished societies. One of the main themes of his campaign is that he alone has the experience and sensitivity to repair America's good name in the world.
But winning the hearts and minds of poor nations will be hard to do under an economic banner of America First. This week, for example, the prestigious Times of India began an article on the free trade argument this way: "The only good Indian engineer may be a dead Indian engineer. That's the kind of toxic sentiment some American workers are beginning to express amid a vituperative debate over outsourcing."
This is obviously a wild exaggeration. But wild exaggeration is a powerful weapon, especially when it comes to the Great Satan. A thousand village demagogues will take up the call: See how America wants to close down our factories and steal the few good jobs we have for themselves. This grievance will be greeted with sympathy, of course, by America's European economic rivals, aka the world community.
It's hard to blame the Democrats for wanting to champion American jobs in an election year.
But it's also hard to keep from noticing the contradiction between a foreign policy that needs the world's goodwill and an economic policy that wants its best jobs.
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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.
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