Our regular readers will have noticed that we have not been rounding up all the back and forth between Clinton and Obama on the NAFTA issue. Indeed, by sheer number of press hits, NAFTA is the top story in the country.
Part of the void at EOT is that I've got a pretty insane fever and am bedridden, while some of our other contributors are also out. But it's actually for a reason: there's been quite a bit more heat than light in much of the coverage, and it would be exhaustive to try to correct all the errors in the coverage and reporting, as the media grapples with a story that has been all but shut out of the mainstream debate over the last 15 years.
Take the ongoing story about the memo leaked from the Canadian government supposedly showing Obama gave a wink-wink on NAFTA. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, citing one of our own:
Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, a group that is sharply critical of U.S. trade policy, said she is drawing no conclusions from the memo.
"What it means about any U.S. candidate is really hard to decipher because it's all coming through the lens of a right-wing Canadian government," she said.
Wallach said she sees no difference between the trade votes of Obama and Clinton, and thinks both have moved closer to her group's position during the campaign. "Neither of them started out as great champions of trade reform," she said.
Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, an outspoken opponent of U.S. trade policy who hasn't endorsed a candidate, said he regards the memo as "much ado about nothing" because it comes from a conservative Canadian government.
Brown said he doesn't see much difference on trade between Obama and Clinton despite the two campaigns' fierce fighting over the issue.
"I don't think anybody's going to vote on the difference between Hillary and Barack on trade," he said.
Or take the editorial by Jagdish Bhagwati in the Financial Times, where he lays out the neoliberal case for Obama:
Mr Obama’s main union support comes from the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters, neither of which is protectionist: the SEIU’s membership is in the non-traded sector and, except on the issue of Mexican trucks coming into the US, Teamsters do well as trade expands. By contrast, Mrs Clinton’s support comes heavily from the AFL-CIO, which holds strong anti-trade views. This matters because the IOUs you sign during campaigns provide a straitjacket that can restrict your policy options.
Uhh, I don't know even know what these terms mean, but I do know that Change to Win was the federation that actively opposed the Peru FTA last year, and the Teamsters are one of THE most active members of the Citizens Trade Campaign, which has been extracting commitments from the candidates all throughout the race. And if you're worried about restricting your policy options, the WTO poses a much bigger threat to Hillary and Barack than do unions, as we showed in a report last week.
What we're seeing is the mainstream press and elite commentators trying to grapple with a perspective that is very common in middle America, but all but shut out from news outlets. They're getting the facts and the players wrong; they're misrepresenting the issues at stake. The fact that the Democratic primary dragged on this long - to the point where people in Wisconsin and Ohio are actually making a difference in selecting the nominee - means that fair trade issues have to be addressed. Is there a way we can make this happen every four years?
(Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.)