With Hillary Clinton poised to debate her Democratic rivals tonight, this is the ideal time to review her gymnastic switcheroo on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Yeah, trade issues are boring. But fear not, I won’t pull you into the policy weeds. If you want the deets about this deal, which will link 12 Pacific Rim economies and strongly impact America, you can always read this later. It’s solely the politics of the TPP that should interest us today, because what Hillary did last week — when she said she now opposes the deal that she had long supported — was either shrewdly pragmatic or breathtakingly cynical.
But probably both.
It’s clear she’s feeling the heat on her left from Bernie Sanders — in the current parlance, feeling the Bern — because she has been shifting leftward with all deliberate speed, calling for gun control and assailing the NRA (Bernie has a soft-on-guns record), announcing her opposition to the Keystone pipeline, and, now, denigrating the TPP despite the umpteen times she praised the TPP during her stint as secretary of state.
And what praise it was! She championed this deal while it was in the works. She said, among other things, that the TPP would be “the gold standard of trade agreements.” In her memoir Hard Choices, released last year, she lauded the deal because it will “link markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment, and intellectual property.” She said in 2013 that the TPP promises “great economic opportunities to all participating nations. She said in 2012 that the TPP would feature “21st century standards,” including “stronger protections for workers” and “better jobs and higher wages.”
But that was then. Her aim now is to excel at domestic Democratic politics, to ensure that she doesn’t get outflanked on the left – as she was, fatally so, in the ’08 primaries. I suppose she could have stayed consistent on the TPP – her husband was a NAFTA free trade guy – and perhaps earned some props for hewing to her convictions. But the liberal Democratic base views the TPP as a giveaway to the corporations and an invitation (a la NAFTA) to shift more jobs overseas, so Hillary (who’s viewed by many progressives as too corporate-friendly) decided it would be wise to pull a flip flop.
Which she did, in a PBS interview. Referring to the trade deal, she said: “What I know about it, as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.”
Rest assured, if Hillary was crushing the competition in the Democratic polls, there’s no way she would’ve thrown this deal under the bus. But with Bernie crowding her big time (he has long assailed the deal as a victory for “Wall Street and other big corporations”), she felt compelled to dump it. Iowa and New Hampshire are looming, and the last thing she needs is antipathy from the labor unions that hate the TPP. These unions aren’t particularly strong in the 21st century economy, but they’re potentially crucial at the grassroots level in many Democratic primaries.
And you can tell that Hillary’s decision to reject the deal is nakedly political, because her reasons are basically a crock. I’ll spare you the policy details, but here’s the gist:
She’s insisting that the TPP is too friendly to the pharmaceutical companies, at the expense of the consumer — but the final provisions are actually tougher on the drug firms than the provisions that were in play back when she was praising the deal.
She’s complaining that the TPP doesn’t “crack down” on currency manipulation (which happens when nations like China artifically lower the value of their currency to boost cheap exports). But the TPP has never tackled the issue of currency manipulation — nations would’ve balked at ceding any control over their currency — and Hillary seemed fine with that omission back when she was ballyhooing the deal as “the gold standard.”
Anyway, Hillary’s fans say that this flip-flop is no big whoop, that it’s just part of a natural evolution, that she has been steadily reclaiming her true left-leaning roots. Yeah, sure. Truth is, she’s a politician who wants to win. And mollifying the liberal base, hewing close to the issues with Bernie, is currently task number one.
By the way, take a closer look at her statement on PBS: “What I know about it, as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.” There’s enough wiggle room in that statement for a fleet of Humvees. We shouldn’t be shocked if a future President Hillary, freed from her need to please the base, shares with us the great trade goodies she has suddenly learned.
But whatever Hillary and her rivals cook up tonight, they can’t possibly trump the debating Republicans for abject idiocy. Here’s center-right columnist David Brooks today, on the pathetic GOP dysfunction:
“Politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions. It involves conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view and balance valid but competing ideas and interests. But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal….
“Welcome to Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and the Freedom Caucus. Really, have we ever seen bumbling on this scale, people at once so cynical and so naïve, so willfully ignorant in using levers of power to produce some tangible if incremental good?”
Not in my long experience.