11/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hanging Ourselves With a Chinese-Made Rope

Whomever the next president is, he will have to confront economic, human rights, national security and environmental issues on a global scale. It isn't just the financial sector that has gone planetary -- it is everything. And that gives progressives the opportunity to expand the political discussion to the one issue that ties all of these together: International trade.

This is the subject of the newest Op-Ad in the New York Times by the Institute for America's Future. It is part of the Institute's series of op-ads demanding a presidential debate worthy of a great nation.

I've been covering the debate over trade for years now, and it's safe to say that the issue is going to be forced to the forefront in the next few years. That's because of two competing forces.

On the one side, you have the growing power and muscle of the fair trade movement. Polls show Americans are tired of our current lobbyist-written policies, and that sentiment was reflected in the Democratic primary competition to show who was more anti-NAFTA. With movies like Battle In Seattle and organizations like Public Citizen, the Citizens Trade Campaign and the Campaign for America's Future organizing around trade with labor, grassroots and environmental groups, a new vision for trade is forming -- one that, as Chris Hayes notes, is even bleeding into academia.

On the other side, however, there are the forces of status quo, who want to continue our current trade policies forever. These are the corporate lobbyists, business think tanks and Washington operatives currently pushing a NAFTA expansion into Colombia. They have -- and will continue to -- portray fair traders as irresponsible Luddites, much as we saw Iraq War opponents depicted, much as we see bailout opponents slandered.

To really have a debate worthy of a great nation, we have to be clear on two important points in this confrontation over trade:

1. Nobody is against trade. Nobody. Though "free" traders say that anyone opposing their agenda is "anti-trade" that's just not all. Fair traders are for vigorous trade, just with a different set of rules -- namely, those that prioritize people over profits.

2. So-called "free" traders aren't pushing actual free trade -- they are pushing one kind of protectionism and fair traders are pushing another. The current so-called "free" trade deals have all sorts of protections for copyrights, intellectual property and investor rights. These deals are thousands of pages long -- and the thousands of pages aren't filled with language eliminating tariffs (you could do that in one page) -- they are filled with these corporate protections. Fair traders would like to see some of those corporate protections replaced with protections for people (ie. labor rights, environmental rights, human rights, etc.).

With that in mind -- and with America's own history building its economic engine through fair trade policies -- fair traders are clearly on the offensive in this fight. But it is going to take continued and sustained pressure. That's what this Op-Ad aims to fuel -- and I encourage you to pass on the Op-Ad and help spread the word. This is a battle the blogosphere can be instrumental in -- a battle that can unify all parts of the progressive movement.