President-elect Barack Obama has apparently offered the U.S. trade representative job to Xavier Becerra, a truly mediocre machine-politics hack from Southern California. My former colleagues at the L.A. Times editorial board say it well:
He's a terrible choice, and not just because of a history of unsavory behavior—such as his successful efforts to win a pardon from President Clinton for convicted cocaine kingpin Carlos Vignali, or the screamingly unethical robo-calls his campaign engineered during his run for Los Angeles mayor in 2001. Becerra is a leader of the Democratic Party's protectionist wing, which opposes NAFTA, the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement and most other trade deals.
Free trade irks many liberals because it can shift American jobs to other countries, but it almost invariably does more good than harm, lowering prices for goods and creating new jobs to make up for those it displaces. What's more, history shows that the last thing the country should do during an economic downturn is become more protectionist.
Obama railed against trade agreements every day on the campaign trail, so this pick, and the new president's potentially disastrous approach toward trade, should really come as no surprise.