03/07/2008 09:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hope In the Time of NAFTA

It is impossible to argue with any semblance of honesty that Hillary Clinton is telling the truth when she claims to "have been a critic of Nafta from the very beginning." Her statements over the last 10 years - including one just 3 years ago - declared her strong support for the job-killing trade pact. And no matter how many Washington insiders like David Gergen or Carl Bernstein appear on television insisting Clinton opposed NAFTA "from the beginning," we have the very clear statements from the candidate herself.

Yet, as I discuss in my new newspaper column, Clinton managed to avoid explaining the gap between her different statements in the lead up to the Ohio primary. Instead, she made the entire NAFTA debate about an uncorroborated report from the right-wing Canadian government designed to embarrass Barack Obama. It was a deliberate strategy to create what many are calling an "Archie Bunker" divide in the Democratic primary. Even more incredibly, the American media followed right along.

Of course, Clinton"s campaign was implicated in the same "NAFTA-gate" story as Obama's campaign, but the American media (except for Keith Olbermann last night) has not reported that either. Instead, we have been treated to a fact-free theater of the absurd by journalists who are largely insulated from the factory closings and wage cuts that NAFTA symbolizes. And the tragedy is that the pressing questions about trade and globalization have been ignored at the very moment when polls show the public wants those questions answered.

I explore some of these questions in the column. Why, for example, are the very terms "protectionist" and "tariff" taboo, considering our country's economic history? How are "free" trade deals riddled with corporate protections still called "free?" Why do Establishment pundits get away with wrapping job killing, poverty-sowing trade deals in the rhetoric of altruism? And how is that almost no reporters are asking the candidates whether they are going to change the trade restrictions that, according to a troubling new report, could crush their much-vaunted proposals before they ever get off the ground?

The only presidential economic adviser publicly asking some of these questions was Austan Goolsbee - the same Austan Goolsbee who clumsily stumbled into Clinton's crosshairs this week.

I certainly don't agree with Goolsbee on a lot of issues - not surprising considering he has been affiliated in the past with the Democratic Leadership Council, one of Washington's most deceitful corporate front groups. However, his willingness to acknowledge the fundamental corruption of our existing trade policies sets him apart from both Clinton and John McCain's economic teams, which either tell us we need to merely shore up the social safety net, or do nothing at all. Goolsbee - in email exchanges with me a few years ago and recently in public forums - acknowledges the problem is much, much deeper and more structural, and that provides a glimmer of hope.

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