How to Keep Congress: An Anti-Corp, Anti-Free-Trade Message

Jonathan Tasini

I get why people are angry. Not the anger espoused by the racists, birthers and anti-government people. Across the political spectrum, wherever people place themselves, there is a unifying point that keeps coming up: we’ve been robbed by corporate powers. And the foolish, failed so-called free trade” policies – pursued by Republicans and Democrats alike – is a place to find a unifying WINNING ELECTORAL theme in November. Maybe.

A few days ago, Stan Greenberg and James Carville sent around a memo, which has been discussed here and there. Much of the memo focused on, in my opinion, happy talk about new polling showing Democrats recouping lost ground. Buried lower in the memo, as pointed out by our friends at the Citizens Trade Campaign, was this:

There is a second message that centers on made in America, creating American jobs and opposing the Republicans who supports trade agreements and tax breaks for companies that ex-port American jobs. The message is strongest with older women and seniors and with independents. These can be used in a targeted way, while working in our next poll and focus groups to bring these two messages together:

My passion is made in America,” working to support small businesses, American companies and new American industries. (REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to support the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and protect the loophole for companies outsourcing American jobs. I have a different approach to give tax breaks for small businesses that hire workers and give tax subsidies for companies that create jobs right here in America.

Let me be clear about my own position. I am not for a message that opposes trade by targeting workers abroad i.e., “[Fill in the blank] is taking our jobs and we have to build everything here because we’re better” or words to that effect. In my humble opinion, that leads us down the same track that fosters anti-immigrant feelings and a moral superiority that does not do our country well.

I am for – and I believe many Americans will respond to – a message that says, No more greed in American – whether it’s on Wall Street or in corporate trade. Vote against any candidate who will vote to let corporations attack our wages and pensions and the American Dream by forcing workers everywhere to work for slave wages.” Ok, so let the slogan meisters do a better job to shorten it – but you get the picture.

Of course, there is a weakness in this approach: our party has been long associated with promoting the foolish, failed so-called free trade” policies. True, the number of Democrats who vote for these failed deals has decreased over time. But, our president, as a way of building bridges to the business community (read: campaign contributors) has recently voiced support for reviving Bush-era trade deals with South Korea and Colombia.

Which leads me to this point: now that corporate America is pouring tens of millions of dollars in the post-Citizens United environment into defeating the Democratic party, what exactly does the president, and other Democrats who run around pimping for so-called free trade”, think they are gaining by continuing to carry the water for these failed policies?

And they don’t even work. Public Citizen recently release a very detailed study that shows obliterates the bogus claimthat so-called free trade” deals are a better bargain:

Yet, analysis of the actual outcomes of past U.S. FTAs show that the growth of U.S. exports to countries that are not FTA partners is as much as double the growth of exports to U.S. FTA partners. Moreover, with respect to Obama’s job creation goal, the United States has suffered trade deficits with most of its major FTA partners and with the group of FTA nations as a 
whole. Even as trade flows declined because of the economic crisis, as of 2009, the United States had a $54 billion trade deficit in goods with its 17 FTA partners, even when oil is excluded. And, contrary to the frequent claims made by proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that U.S. farmers have benefitted from this model, the United States’ agricultural trade deficit with the bloc of 17 FTA partners increased…
Between 1998 and 2008, U.S. goods exports to FTA partner countries grew by an annual average rate of only 3.0 percent. Goods exports to non-FTA partner countries, by contrast, grew by 4.2 percent per year on average.

So, both as a matter of FACTS and raw politics, it makes no sense for our party to put its prestige behind an entirely failed policy – and a policy that voters across the political spectrum do not support (albeit, again, sometimes for the wrong reasons).

I say, maybe” in the introduction because it may be too late. But, it’s worth a try.

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Jonathan Tasini is executive director of the Labor Research Association, a New York City-based nonprofit labor advocacy organization. He blogs at Working Life, a project of the association.
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