One of the funnier Monty Python scenes is in the Holy Grail movie, when a wedding (somewhat accidentally) turns into a blood bath launched by the knight Sir Lancelot of Camelot. The key line, as wedding guest after guest is murdered, is the bride's father, who does his fatherly best to salvage the occasion:
Please! Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who. We are here today to witness the union of two young people in the joyful bond of the holy wedlock. Unfortunately, one of them, my son Herbert, has just fallen to his death.
You can see it in this video, about 5:40 minutes in.
A little bit of this quirky logic is at work in Rahm Emanuel's latest piece for the Wall Street Journal, which tries to get people to stop arguing about NAFTA (which he rammed through Congress), and instead focus on other happy things like a new social contract. Pretty heady stuff coming from a guy who ignored the fair trade sweep that happened under his nose as DCCC chair last cycle, costing the party several pick-up seats while inadvertently winning others.
First, he pretends like the end-all of the trade debate is the core labor standards debate, which is far from true. He comes pretty close to suggesting that something like NAFTA that happened in the past (even if it was willfully executed by him and a host of other humans, much like Lancelot in the clip) should not be debated in the present. Pretty odd sentiment for a week when history is in, as the country tries to sort out who got us into the recession, and when Obama's forceful reflection on the history of racism in America is moving hearts and minds.
But more importantly, there is the suggestion that somehow we EITHER focus on the debate about a social contract, or we fight for fair trade policies. Friends, as much as we've been truly moved by the stories of manufacturing decline in our country, Public Citizen simply would not be in this fight if the issue stopped there. We have gotten involved because the very domestic social contract that we've spent decades fighting for - on auto and pharmaceutical regulation, on democratic process, on consumer safety - was threatened by a trade agenda that delved deeply into the domestic sphere, limiting our policy space on domestic issues. Rahm's four domestic suggestions are: expand education, health care, green jobs, and savings. Absolutely sign me up, but first take note that these policies are limited by the WTO and other trade deals, and (though important) will not by themselves solve the problems of our fundamental lack of balance and effective demand in the economy (which will involve balancing trade and making the world safe again for regulation).
If having to talk to people like us about this fact is annoying to Rahm and others as they promise (not the same as deliver, is it?) a new social contract, - if we're the obstacle here - there is a very easy and quick solution: rewrite the rules, and don't waste time expanding them any further. It's not that talking about them is a distraction from the "real" issues, it's that so-called "trade" is a part of a "neoliberal contract" that must be rewritten as we fight for the things we want.