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Tuesday, Aug 26, 2008, 12:41 pm

Who Said I’m a Divider, and Not a Uniter?

By David Sirota


At various times in my career - as with anyone in the business of making trouble - I have been attacked as a polarizer, a finger-pointer, and/or a divider. But the picture above should tell you, in fact, I am neither.

At left is Austan Goolsbee, the University of Chicago economist who is Barack Obama's chief economic adviser. He and I have become friendly over the last few years. Though we have a number of disagreements on some policies, I think we both respect each other, and challenge each other - and through that, we've developed an ongoing dialogue about economic issues that has been rather productive.

At right, is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), an old friend from my time working for his congressional colleague Bernie Sanders. DeFazio, who hails from an Oregon swing district crucial to Obama's performance in that swing state, is one of the most passionate fair trade advocates in the Congress.

While I was walking out of the Pepsi center today, I happened upon Goolsbee and then, while we were chatting, saw DeFazio. What a perfect time for a little bridge-building.

That's what this picture captures - these two very different political animals meeting each other, and starting to discuss the economic issues that a potential Obama administration would tackle.

Goolsbee, I think, offers some hope that a new trade policy can be forged. As I wrote in an newspaper column a few months ago, Goolsbee is one of the few economists who acknowledges that trade deals - as written - are neither "free" nor "fair." They are rigged. Indeed, this is precisely what Goolsbee and DeFazio started discussing.

Conventions are often billed as nothing more than overhyped television shows, enlivened by corporate-funded cocktail parties. There's truth to that, but there's also truth to the idea that conventions lubricate political movements by bringing together very different people together for the kind of human interaction that builds working relationships. Professor Goolsbee and the jeans-and-beer Congressman DeFazio couldn't be more different, but getting them to start talking - or even to simply know each other personally - is the kind of thin that make these events valuable.

David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a staff writer at PandoDaily and a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

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