Freedom from Progress
Unlike many of the Capitol Hill staffers on this fair Saint Patrick's Day, we did not start the morning off with an 8 am beer. So here we are, at work, trying not to let vague feelings of ancestral oppression drive us to drink. But in an effort to come up with something kitschy for the big green day, I was looking around my desk for a hook, and found one in Ed Gresser's new book Freedom from Want. (Which, has a green cover... see?)
This slim volume by the former USTR official and Baucus staffer was put out by Soft Skull Press. For those of you who were graffiti heads in the 1990s, you'll remember that this is the same press that put on William Upski Wimsatt's Bomb the Suburbs. And books by graphic novelist Seth Tobocman, and even a book about the Seattle WTO protests. Which one of these things is not like the other? I am pretty sure Gresser is the only Soft Skull author to have high end Washington think tank book readings, at the Carnegie Endowment and I believe earlier in the year at the Naval Barracks as well. A little editorially confusing, and a little strange why a mainstream publishing house wouldn't publish such an impassioned defense of status quo trade policies.
The basic premise of the book will come as a surprise to anyone who reads editorial pages or fought the Peru FTA last year: namely, that mainstream American liberals applaud the global justice movement. The fact that there is still a near-total consensus among elites in favor of our trade policy is dodged by pointing out the rare exceptions: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a random quote by Gov. Howard Dean, also of Vermont.
Gresser's mission with the book is to convince the hordes of liberals under the sadistic control of the Citizens Trade Campaign that they should instead embrace the Clinton trade legacy because, in no particular order, countries have traded since the dawn of time, unemployment is low, people in developing countries prefer manufacturing jobs to agriculture jobs, colonialism was really a period of "Victorian Globalization" and freedom, FDR liked to trade with other countries, and Ed knows a distracting amount about Chinese and Greek classic civilization.
Indeed, the book is the 2.0 version of a USTR press release: dodging the major critiques made by the global justice movement in favor of obfuscation, only with tedious historical tangents (i.e. "For two centuries China has been the shape-shifter among the powers. Like the little god Proteus in Homeric legend...") , and chatty asides about the physical appearance of Clinton-era bureaucrats (i.e. "pugnacious, white-haired Bob Cassidy with his boxing-thickened ear").
Ed's book is a useful refresher on the kinds of lines that elite Democrats use when in office, and it will be particularly useful for the many younger folks in the movement who can't remember when we had a Democratic president. Unlike elite Republicans, who tend to ignore the global justice movement's critiques altogether, elite Dems do actually make an attempt to respond, and justify their favored policies with some reference (however strained) to social justice.
So there actually is a chapter on trade and the environment that addresses environmentalists' critique of the WTO dispute settlement system. But it drags you into the weeds pretty quickly in an attempt to create doubt about what environmentalists are saying. The enviro critique doesn't have to be disproved, just rendered sufficiently questionable that an uninformed activist might say, "Oh, I guess it's pretty complicated and the truth is probably somewhere inbetween." There's also the attempt to race and class bait, and suggest that global justice advocates are somehow against the poor at home and abroad because supposedly the sweatshop movement doesn't want there to be factories in developing countries and wants U.S. consumers to pay high prices for imported shoes.
In short, counter-information will be the name of the game to the extent that the 1990s cast of characters on economic policy are revived in a Dem-run D.C. It's tougher to confront this stuff than the simple Bush-bashing and Tom Friedman-dissing than has become de rigeur over the last 8 years. Our side needs to reflect on our own thoughts about working class strategy, about democracy and participation, and about rolling back neo-liberalism in favor of a system that allows policy space at home and abroad. In short, be prepared to hear arguments in favor of child labor cast in progressive-sounding rhetoric, fight the urge to gag, do your homework, and respond as forcefully as possible!
Finally, I'll fight the urge to post some Dropkick Murphy's, and instead get as close to Irish as I'll get today: a cover of U2's excellent activist anthem Sunday Bloody Sunday by slam poet / NIN-protege Saul Williams. Enjoy!