A Super Delegate Strategy--With Content, On Trade

03/04/2008 12:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I'm frankly unmoved by the arguments circulating that so-called superdelegates have to vote one way or another. The system for political primaries is broken and the superdelegate issue -- discovered mainly by people who never objected to their status before -- is just one problem. But, since the superdelegates may have a crucial role at the Democratic convention, or perhaps before the convention if enough of them move to support one candidate or another to seal the deal, I'd like to suggest that they actually extract something from a candidate, and I don't mean a Cabinet post, ambassadorship for a friend or some other favor. How about locking down a real, concrete commitment on trade?

What would happen, for example, if Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Marcy Kaptur -- both from Ohio and both uncommitted superdelegates -- wrote an open letter to Sens. Obama and Clinton that sought specifics on what they would do about trade. It would be a letter, which other superdelegates could sign on to, that would ask for commitments on trade that would be included in the party's platform -- since the nominee has a significant say in what that platform ends up saying -- and, more important, be part of the agenda for a new Administration. Some of what they might write:

Like you, we support trade. We, and many legislators, policy experts and millions of Americans, want to exchange goods and services with people around the world. However, we do not want to continue the failed model of so-called "free trade" which lowers living standards for Americans and millions of people around the globe and exposes citizens of the world to dangerous health and safety threats in their communities.

To that end, we have four questions we'd like answer to:

1. You have both said you believe in renegotiating NAFTA and increasing the enforcement power for labor and environmental provisions. Can you explain to us why you think enforcement is such a critical issue in so-called "free trade" pacts? Can you be very specific about how you envision increasing enforcement power? What is the price-tag for such enforcement powers and are you now committing to including such a cost in your very first budget request to Congress?

2. We are in favor of enacting a universal health care plan in the U.S. and we also believe the U.S. must be far more aggressive in combating climate change. Can you tell us how you would negotiate changes in global trade agreements that currently threaten to undermine your domestic agenda on health care and climate change. We refer you to the detailed analysis on this topic produced by Public Citizen.

3. Both of you say you oppose extending "fast track" authority to the current president. While that is a no-brainer position, we want to know whether you will support the elimination of "fast track" under your administration and seek the return of a balanced relationship between the powers of the executive branch and Congress when it comes to determining the specifics incorporated in future trade agreements.

4. We believe that the model of so-called "free trade" rests on an unsustainable imperative to drive down wages here and around the globe. In particular, like John Edwards, we believe that Chapter 11 provisions in so-called "free trade" agreements give huge, broad rights to corporations irrespective of the side agreements on labor and the environment, allowing corporations to undermine basic community standards. Will you seek to fully eliminate Chapter 11 provisions in any future trade agreements?

Before we cast our support for any candidate, we want to know where you stand on these important issues.

Now, maybe if we could get that kind of letter going (of course, there are probably more questions to ask--I was trying to be succinct) , we'd have a more substantive debate.