Ronald Brownstein has a great column (annoying registration required, use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’) in today’s L.A. Times that points out the teeeny-tiny crack in the logic of many of the Democratic candidates. Unilateral action on national security = inherently BAD. Unilateral action on protecting jobs and the environment = inherently GOOD.
Democrats Give Belligerence a Chance When it Comes to Trade
If there’s one point of agreement among all of the Democratic presidential candidates, it’s that President Bush has unnecessarily alienated the world with an approach to international security that is “arrogant,” “bullying” and “belligerent.”
Here’s former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, in a speech in Iowa in February, describing Bush’s foreign policy: “I believe that the president too often employs a reckless, go-it-alone approach that drives us away from some of our longest-standing and most important allies, when what we need is to pull the world community together in common action.”
Now here’s Dean, back in Iowa in August, telling a union audience how he would convince America’s trading partners to adopt labor and environmental laws as stringent as those in the United States: “How am I going to get this passed?” Dean asked. “We are the biggest economy in the world; we don’t have to participate in [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and we don’t have to participate in the [World Trade Organization]. If we don’t, it falls apart.”
Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.
Now I’m guilty as well of arguing that some level of international consensus is necessary to win the current war while also arguing that we need a relatively free hand to manage our economy. This is a hand smacked against the forehead to remind me that the two are inextricably linked.
Any Democratic president, given the prominence of organized labor in the party, will push harder than Bush for reform in developing countries that provide their producers an unfair cost advantage by allowing them to pollute the environment or exploit their workers. To a point, that emphasis benefits workers in America and around the world.
But promises from several Democrats to impose punitive tariffs on countries that don’t meet our expectations in their labor and environmental laws … much less Dean’s pledge to use trade talks to pressure every nation on the globe to match U.S. standards on those fronts … are a recipe for endless conflict.
If the Democrats really intend to take more account than Bush of the world’s opinion, they will have to demonstrate it not just on questions of war and peace, where their most ardent partisans want the whole world to hold hands. They’ll also have to prove it on the trade disputes where their base is clamoring for the cudgels.
It has to be more than a matter of whose ox is … as they say … Gored.