Thursday, July 17, 2003

# Posted 7:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FREE TRADE BUSHWHACKED? The always thoughtful JAT isn't satisfied with my assertion that
"...we now inhabit a strange world where the Democratic Party has
become the most credible advocate of free trade and balanced budgets, i.e. economic conservatism."

No. As I'll explain below, it is paradoxically because the Democratic
Party is less a party of free trade that Democratic *Presidents* (as
opposed to Congressmen) have stronger political incentives to be free

First off, your comment seems absurd to someone who lives in North
Carolina, and witnessed the Elizabeth Dole- Erskine Bowles Senate race in
2002. Almost every Bowles ad contained some criticism of cheap Mexican
goods flooding into the US, and cheap Chinese goods flooding into the US
through Mexico. (Complete with scary maps and red arrows.) Elizabeth
Dole generally tried to avoid the issue, but made a defense of free trade.

The same was true of Rep. Robin Hayes's (R-NC) race. (Rep. Hayes was one of the final "Yes" votes for fast track authority.) His Democratic
opponent ran nothing but anti-free trade ads in 2002. Everywhere in North Carolina, every legislative race I've ever seen, the Republican candidate is more free trade than the Democratic one. This is repeated throughout
the state and the country-- relatively protectionist Republicans represent
protectionist districts (heavily union, especially) where the Democrats
who run against them are even more protectionist. Free trading Democrats represent very pro-free trade districts.

In the larger picture, remember that even during the Clinton
Administration, a majority of the Republicans in the House and Senate
voted for fast track trade authority, while a much smaller fraction of the
Democrats. (Under a Republican president, Bush, more Republicans and
fewer Democrats voted for fast track.)

Remember Gephardt and most of the rest of the Congressional Democrat
leadership saying that the steel tariffs didn't go far enough.

The Republicans have a much, much larger free trade bloc than the
Democrats, and have a much more naturally free trade constituency. The
legislative votes reflect this.

However, this does peversely mean that Democratic *executives* can
sometimes be more free trade, in an "only Nixon can go to China" sense.
When a Democratic President advocates free trade, he upsets his union and left wing base, but reaches out to moderates and Republican supporters. A sitting Democratic President doesn't have to fear an attack from the left
as much, and can broaden his support by supporting free trade. His base
may be upset, but he can use other issues to placate them.

A Republican President faces exactly the reverse dilemma. Caving on free
trade upsets mostly Republican voters (and moderate Democrats), but is an attempt to appeal to large Democratic constituencies that are open to
Republicans on other issues-- but are very protectionist. (Unions,
especially.) Again, it's an attempt to broaden support at the expense of
upsetting the base.
I have to admit, JAT's logic is pretty solid. I'm not sure, though, that there is such a clear incentive for Presidents to offend their base in the process of reaching out to the center. After all, it is the base that votes in the primaries and sends in donations. As such, I think it is still fair to say that Clinton had a real commitment to free trade while Bush simply doesn't.
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