Feeling the heat to hide one's shadow
(Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.)
Buckle in, because you are going to see a torrent of fair-trade election madness on this blog in the coming days like you've never witnessed before. Some of you will recall that we wrote the most comprehensive analyses I've seen yet of the 2006 elections, and we're about to repeat it again for the 2008 elections. We are monitoring over 120 races - over 250 candidates - for federal office, and looking at the role that trade and other pocketbook issues are playing. We'll release this nearly 100-page report (with a shorter findings section) shortly after the polls close on Wednesday.
One of our key findings is that candidates of all stripes are feeling the pressure from their constituents to run on fair-trade platforms. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting on one:
In his fifth term, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan should be very familiar to the people of southeastern Wisconsin. The Janesville Republican is an economic conservative who hasn't seen a free-trade deal he didn't like. So forgive the people of the state's 1st Congressional District if they are a little confused by Ryan's latest ad.
"People are hurting because American companies benefit by shipping jobs overseas," the 38-year-old pol says into the camera. Ryan then complains that it is "unfair" for American companies to get a tax break by producing goods elsewhere and then importing them to the U.S. "Instead of exporting jobs," he concludes, "we should be exporting American products."
That's a lot of fair-trade rhetoric from someone known as a free-trade champion...
[Sacchin] Chheda, the spokesman for the Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition, said it sounded as if Ryan was trying to come up with "a solution to a problem he's created" by voting repeatedly for free-trade measures.
By the coalition's count, Ryan has voted 17 times for various international trade deals, including ones to lower or eliminate taxes and tariffs on trade between the U.S. and Central America, Australia and Peru. He also supported a measure to normalize trade relations with China.
"(The ad) suggests that he believes in order to honestly represent his constituents, he'd need to have the exact opposite record on these issues," Chheda said.
Elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal shows that Democrats are running on the issue too:
A slumping economy, years of stagnating wages for many workers and unease about the rise of China as an economic power are fueling popular skepticism toward free trade and buoying Democratic candidates who are seizing on anxieties about globalization...
One Republican free trader feeling the heat is Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, who likes to remind voters that one in five jobs in the state depends on overseas trade. He has supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. "Oregon is probably the most trade-dependent state in America," Sen. Smith said. "Portland is called Portland because it's a port."
Now Sen. Smith is scrambling to hang on to his seat, as his Democratic opponent, Jeff Merkley, hammers on the trade issue.
"They call it free trade," a recent Merkley ad says, "Problem is -- there's nothing free about it." Mr. Merkley wants legislation that would inject strict workplace safety, labor and environmental standards into future trade agreements, while requiring a review of all existing trade deals. Polls show Mr. Merkley running closely with Sen. Smith.
From Oregon to Georgia to upstate New York, skepticism about the benefits of free trade is rippling through campaigns for several House and Senate seats, many of them races where Democrats are running strong...
Most Democrats don't call for blatant protectionist measures such as steep tariffs, or a return to import quotas such as those that governed automotive trade in the 1980s. Instead, Democrats, starting with Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, talk about the need for trade to be fair, and insist that trading partners be required to meet higher standards for environmental controls and workers' rights to unionize.