It's typically treated as pretty newsworthy when a majority of a president's own party votes against a signature presidential initiative. Double that when over two-thirds do so. Triple the newsworthiness when it's the first time that magnitude of opposition has occured in a president's tenure.
Quadruple for when talking heads are debating whether elected officials will carry the banner of a wide-ranging new progressive protest movement that has declared its independence from that same president. And quintuple when the president has presented a two-plank carrot-stick deal with Republicans - controversial trade deals that won't create jobs plus stimulus spending that will - and when the Republicans move forward with the job-killing plank. But the job-creating plank? Not so much.
This describes precisely what happened with last night's votes to expand NAFTA-style deals to Korea, Colombia and Panama. But you wouldn't know it from any of this morning's press coverage of the vote, which lauded the "bipartisanship" of a deal that was supported by only a tiny cohort of corporate Democrats.
This is deeply misguided, as Lori Wallach noted over at FireDogLake,
"Today a larger share of House Democrats voted against a Democratic president on trade than ever before. It took Bill Clinton nearly eight years of NAFTA job losses, sell outs and scandals to have (not even) two-thirds of the House Democrats vote against him on trade."
Obama managed to do the same in three, getting Democratic opposition nearly 20 percentage points higher than Clinton ever did.Over 82 percent of Democrats opposed the Colombia FTA, while over two-thirds opposed the Korea FTA and over 64 percent opposed the Panama FTA. Even a majority of the New Democrats - the most pro-NAFTA grouping in the party - opposed. These percentages go well beyond the previous high-water mark of House Dem revolt from the president (the February vote on the Patriot Act).
Why were Dems so opposed? The deals won't do anything to help the jobs crisis, and could make things worse. On top of that, they contain hundreds of pages of non-trade provisions that put obstacles in the way of re-regulation of Wall Street and environmental protection. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), a leading Blue Dog, lays out the analysis in this compelling speech that takes the White House to task.
Democrats' declaration of independence wasn't the only thing that was missed in the coverage. The media also missed the storyline of the Tea Party's abandoning of its principles. Candidate Rand Paul, for instance, railed against the WTO as as an intrusion on U.S. sovereignty. Countless House Tea Party candidates ran paid ads attacking job offshoring, helping them make key inroads among working class voters. Yet virtually the entirety of the Tea Party backed candidates sided with the president for job offshoring deals.
Indeed, there has always been several dozen Republicans who could be counted on to vote against unfair trade policy - even in super-close votes like Bush's push in 2005 for CAFTA, which passed by two votes. Fast forward to 2011, when ONLY SIX Republicans voted against the Panama FTA. This is a historic shift for a party who has always had a more trade-skeptical segment going back centuries.
These political shifts are likely to have major consequences in the upcoming elections. Many Democrats have - like the movement on the streets - declared their political independence. Will it be enough to make up for being down-ticket from a president who flip-flopped on his own campaign pledges to overhaul U.S. trade policy? The world will be watching.
(P.S. The media also was also mum that the president was misrepresenting the government's own studies on the likely economic impact of the deal. These studies, unlike similar studies for all earlier trade deals, showed an increase in the trade deficit. For virtually the entire four-year debate on the bills, the media mentioned only the projected export increase, without discussing the projected import increase. This was Very valuable political cover, but not particularly good reporting. But that's another story.)