I have found one candidate whom I believe is genuinely serious about fixing America's trade mess. He's an undeniable long shot, as Herman Cain was until recently. But it's not my aim here to handicap a horse race.
President Obama bails the economy boat as fast as he can with tax cuts and infrastructure, but fails to plug the off shore hole in the sinking economy. Shameful conduct! Not on Wall Street, but in Washington.
America doesn't need to cut itself off from the world entirely, but it does need to get wise to the fact that the rest of the world views trade (correctly) as an arena of national rivalry, and start playing the game.
Whenever protectionists like myself demand that the U.S. government do something to stand up for America in global trade, we are shouted down with the stern admonition, "You'll start a trade war." I wish.
It may seem paradoxical, even perverse, to suggest that the Republican party is soon going to have to abandon free market ideology. But this is quite likely true, and it may be the political weapon that will marginalize Democrats for a generation.
China is only the most brazen player of one-way free trade out there. We ran a $273 billion deficit with China in 2010, but we also ran an $80 billion deficit with the European Union and a $60 billion deficit with Japan.
There is no good reason -- regardless of what most economists say -- to assume that free trade is necessarily the best approach. The economic logic of those who say it is is riddled with enough holes to sink a container ship.
Once protectionism is conceded to be a valid political position, it will eventually win the public debate, if free trade's unpopularity continues to mount at the pace it has been mounting over the last 10 years.
Embracing our economic obligations to our own countrymen would be a far more meaningful step for anyone who really cares about other people than the phony humanism of economic globalists and "free trade" advocates.
Despite being one of the most pressing policy choices facing America, and despite having been one of the biggest controversies in the last, oh, 400 years of economic history, free trade rarely gets a real debate in this country.
Mercantilism has somewhat different application in developed, rather than developing, nations, but its fundamentals still hold good. We at least need to defend against mercantilist aggression against us, something we are not doing.
Despite the fact that every major American trade agreement since NAFTA has worsened America's trade balance, Obama actually seems to think he can improve America's export performance by going for more.
While a rich nation can indeed borrow a huge amount of money and has a lot of assets to sell off, this doesn't mean Santa has installed an ATM on every street corner. Which is what a lot of people seem to think.