Obama's Shrugging Acceptance of Globalization

One of the odd things about the Obama campaign attacking Romney by connecting him to offshoring activities at Bain Capital is that Obama has never been a particularly vocal opponent of free trade, or a notably dedicated protectionist.

In his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, written while Obama was a U.S. Senator, he notes that globalization is tough for workers that lose their jobs, and pays lip service to certain organized labor concerns about American firms employing workers overseas.

But he also talks to Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who tells him that while some U.S. workers might "face challenges" in a globalized world, he's "cautiously optimistic" that globalization will not ultimately be harmful to the overall U.S. economy. And Rubin very clearly warns that "any efforts at protectionism will be counterproductive" and will make the children of those seeking protectionist policies "worse off in the long run." Obama seems to basically agree:

I appreciated Rubin’s acknowledgment that American workers might have legitimate cause for concern when it came to globalization; in my experience, most labor leaders have thought deeply about the issue and can’t be dismissed as kneejerk protectionists.

Still, it was hard to deny Rubin’s basic insight: We can try to slow globalization, but we can’t stop it. The U.S. economy is now so integrated with the rest of the world, and digital commerce so widespread, that it’s hard to even imagine, much less enforce, an effective regime of protectionism.

To be sure, Obama isn't the world's most devout free-trader. But as Daniel Drezner notes at Foreign Policy, the point here isn't really that Obama loves mercantilism, or plans to govern as an ardent anti-free trader. It's that he and his messaging team think it's a winning tactic to campaign as if maybe he does. 

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  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    ...most labor leaders have thought deeply about the issue and can’t be dismissed as kneejerk protectionists.

    It's just that all the deep thoughts of all the labor leaders just happened to coincide with those of kneejerk protectionists.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    The deep thoughts of labor leaders:

    "We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!"

  • R C Dean||

    I have serious doubts that most labor leaders have thought deeply about this issue at all. Their sole concern is maximizing the revenue and political influence of their unions. I'm sure their thinking on this has been no deeper than "globalization could lead to offshoring, and thus a loss of revenue and political influence. I'm agin'it."

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...Obama has never been a particularly vocal opponent of free trade, or a notably dedicated protectionist.

    I don't know what this has to do with what Obama says on the campaign trail.

  • wareagle||

    I think Peter is hoping for intellectual consistency. Clearly, he forgets the piece is about Obama.

  • R C Dean||

    No kidding.

    Why anyone would think that the campaign is anything but opportunistic and unprincipled is the real mystery.

  • Pip||

    "One of the odd things about the Obama campaign attacking Romney by connecting him to offshoring activities at Bain Capital is that Obama has never been a particularly vocal opponent of free trade, or a notably dedicated protectionist."

    Not odd at all. The whole point is to portray Romney as the evil rich guy as opposed to Obama, the good rich guy.

  • The Hammer||

    And it's working, at least with the base. There was a comment on HuffPo a couple of weeks ago about how Romney is a millionaire so he can't possibly have any concern for normal people. I asked how much they thought Obama was worth, and I got about 30 replies along the lines of "what's your point?" or "not nearly as much as Romney!"

  • wareagle||

    the lack of self-awareness is acute with this liberal tribe.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If you look at the South Korea Free Trade Agreement, it was only okay with Obama once changes were made at the behest of the UAW.

    The deal was supported by Ford Motor Company, as well as the United Auto Workers, both of which had previously opposed the agreement. Remarking on the UAW's support, an Obama administration official was quoted as saying, "It has been a long time since a union supported a trade agreement" and thus the administration hopes for a "big, broad bipartisan vote" in the U.S. Congress in 2011.[12]

    http://tinyurl.com/7oyqjh3

    So, no, Obama isn't a free trade obstructionist...

    So long as the free trade agreement is okay with UAW.

    If you think it's a great that our trade agreements are held hostage by the UAW and other labor unions, then, yeah, Obama is a gem on free trade.

    The same thing happened with the Columbia Free Trade Agreement, where Obama insisted on either scrapping the agreement--or requiring the Colombian government to set up a new labor ministry (like our Department of Labor) to institutionalize the labor unions in that country--like they're institutionalized here.

    http://www.ustr.gov/webfm_send/2787

    So, why look at some book Obama wrote when he was a senator when we can look at his behavior over the past four years on free trade?

    Obama lets the labor unions who support him hold our free trade policy hostage. Labor unions will continue to set our trade policy so long as Obama remains in office.

    That's the bottom line.

  • Killazontherun||

    Two Batman related gags in as many days. Let me know if you ever need to be adopted, Peter.

  • R C Dean||

    The Bane/Bain yuks are just too easy.

  • ||

    in my experience, most labor leaders have thought deeply about the issue and can’t be dismissed as kneejerk protectionists

    Every labor leader I have heard testify at the Hawaii State Capitol was a knee-jerk protectionist.

    Dunno where Obama found these allegedly thoughtful labor leaders.

  • Pip||

    Jimmy Hoffa is thinking deeply as we speak.

  • Ken Shultz||

    George Meany was a legitimately pro-free trade union leader.

    He's long gone.

    I bet he wouldn't even recognize the place, anymore.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Dunno where Obama found these allegedly thoughtful labor leaders.

    His donor lists.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    It's that he and his messaging team think it's a winning tactic to campaign as if maybe he does.

    No - it's all he's got.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Obama has never been a particularly vocal opponent of free trade, or a notably dedicated protectionist.

    Peter, let's take a little trip in my time machine. Don't worry, unlike a certain movie, I can guarantee your safety.

    January 24, 2012

    I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products. And I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules. We've brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration - and it's made a difference. Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It's not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It's not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they're heavily subsidized.

    Tonight, I'm announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders. And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing finance or new markets like Russia.
  • ||

    So Obama does not really think trade is bad. he just wants his base to think he thinks trade is bad so while they are paying attention to stopping trade he is off running up our debt to 100% of our GDP which in turn slows our economy by 1 to 2%.

    Brilliant!!!

  • ||

    One should point out this graph:

    http://www.heritage.org/~/medi.....1_590.ashx

    The left may not be in a full on protectionist trade war...but if they keep pushing for controls of CO2 we will soon find ourselves in one.

    Make no mistake, with US CO2 emissions dropping the left have no other option but to target the developing world.

    ie poor brown people need to stay poor to "save the environment".

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