Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Canada-Obama Free Trade Agreement

Obama's campaign is being accused of soft-pedaling his policy concerns about NAFTA to a foreign government, namely Canada. A leaked memo from the Canadian consulate in Chicago appears to confirm it. It comes just days -- hours -- before the big showdown on March 4.

What a mess.

Despite Obama's strident denials, there probably is something to this story. Either he or his campaign thought it would be good idea to use some weasel words about his true intent on free trade.

The real damage from this episode is that it is driving both Democratic candidates further and further into the wrong policy position: protectionism. Obama is now publicly digging in his heals on free trade, insisting that he would renegotiate NAFTA and pull out if he wasn't satisfied. Still worse, Hillary Clinton is clutching to this controversy like a drowning swimmer, hoping that if she can prove that she is more anti-NAFTA than Obama is, it will win her Ohio.

The tragedy is that both of the candidates appear to know better. Hillary Clinton publicly supported NAFTA when it was passed, and she's smart enough to know that NAFTA has been good for the economy of all three countries involved. But now she says she was against it all along, and was just being loyal to her husband. (Clearly a guy who knows what loyalty is about.)

So the Democrats should feel ashamed of themselves, but the real buffon here is the Canadian government. By allowing that memo to get into the press, the Canadiang government has driven both Democrats into a more anti-NAFTA position, which won't be good for Canada if either of them is elected.

The fact that the Canadian embassy doesn't seem to get it is galling. They issued a statement that says: “The Canadian Embassy and our consulates general regularly contact those involved in all of the presidential campaigns and, periodically, report on these contacts to interested officials. There was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA.”

Hey guys, I got a genius idea for you: stop trying to get private concessions out of Presidential candidates and then leaking them to the press!

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