11, Nov 2006 00:09
In Ohio, Democratic House candidate Zack Space declared that "the loss of jobs to overseas markets is perhaps the most serious, long term threat to this country, and our way of life." Next door in the Hoosier State, Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly, running in a district hit hard by factory layoffs, vowed to "vote against trade agreements that ship good-paying jobs overseas, such as the recent trade agreements with Chile and Singapore and CAFTA." In Iowa, Democrat Bruce Braley blamed free trade for the "loss of manufacturing jobs." As he told at least one local reporter, "I am not running for Congress to advocate for the people of China."
Several Pennsylvania races were also marked by anti-trade populism. Democrat Patrick Murphy demanded that incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick "join me and the families of the 8th District in opposing the Oman Free Trade Agreement, and admit his vote for CAFTA was misguided." Democrat Chris Carney ripped NAFTA and CAFTA for giving working families "a raw deal."
One heard similar comments from Democratic Senate winners in Pennsylvania (Bob Casey), Virginia (Jim Webb), Missouri (Claire McCaskill), Montana (Jon Tester), and elsewhere. Webb was especially vituperative in his campaign announcement speech last April. "They talk endlessly about a dream-world of 'free trade' while year after year after year their policies continue costing American jobs," he said of Senate Republicans. "In rural America, including much of Virginia, they've wholesaled entire industries such as furniture and textiles to other countries, and outsourced stacks of other jobs as well. These actions by greedy international corporations that claim on paper to be American are amoral, if not immoral."
In his post-election column, Pat Buchanan himself trumpeted the results as proof that "economic nationalism" is returning. "With the 2006 election, America appears to have reached the tipping point on free trade," Buchanan wrote. "Anxiety, and fear of jobs lost to India and China, seems a more powerful emotion than gratitude for the inexpensive goods at Wal-Mart."
He may be at least partially right. Throughout the 2006 campaign, Republicans kvetched that they got no credit for a strong economy. There are myriad explanations for why that is, but suffice to say that one of them is the failure of wage growth--typically a lagging indicator--to keep pace with overall economic growth. (This allowed Democrats to howl about a "wageless recovery.")
In such an environment, anti-trade demagoguery will find many a receptive ear, especially when coupled with the obvious impact of globalization. That's just the nature of free trade: Its benefits to customers are spread diffusely throughout the U.S. economy, while its costs to U.S. workers are narrowly targeted on local industries.
This is not to say that economic populism delivered Congress to the Democrats. While it may have been marginally influential in various House and Senate races, the broader factors were probably Iraq, anti-Bush sentiment, frustration with Republican incompetence, corruption scandals, and the much-ballyhooed "six-year itch." Still, the skewering of free trade by so many Democratic candidates was noteworthy.
But it does fit with the general attitude of the House Democratic caucus. Nearly 40 percent of House Democrats voted for NAFTA in 1993. Twelve years later, less than 10 percent of House Democrats voted for CAFTA, an agreement of far smaller economic and political significance.
To be sure, some of the opposition to CAFTA can be chalked up to partisanship. But mostly it reflected a stark reality: The effects of globalization have made Democrats instinctively hostile to free trade. As the 2006 campaign affirmed, they are now the party of economic populism.
Duncan Currie is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.