Last night, I wrote optimistically about the possibility of Democratic Party elites finally realizing the error of their ways in ramming corporate-written trade policies down the throat of average Americans. Though I noted that most of the key players are still comfortable in the minority, and still awash in Washington's pay-to-play culture, I cited some recent moves as evidence that they may at the very least realize that they no longer live in the go-go Clinton Era where rhetoric about the "booming economy" could paper over the very serious economic challenges faced by regular working folks. Apparently, I was wrong, and for that I apologize to those who read my post last night.
A stunning piece by Washington Post business reporter Steve Pearlstein today shows that the real agenda of these Big Money insiders is to pretend to care about stagnating wages, slashed pensions, and job outsourcing - but not actually be willing to attack the "free" trade policies that are causing those hardships. Pearlstein notes the nefariousness of it all, after attending a conference by the so-called "Hamilton Project" - the group of Wall-Street-backed Washington, D.C. Democratic insiders working to crush unions, limit citizens legal rights and, of course, perpetuate our corporate-written trade policy:
"The problem is that, when you scratch the surface, the free-trade members of the Democratic establishment turn out to be more committed to Part A of the formula, more globalization, than they are to Part B, making sure the benefits from globalization are widely shared. For them, it's really not a package deal. And if push comes to shove, which it always does in trade politics, they'd welcome more globalization even without the compensatory social policies. How do I know this? Because they said so. At the conference's closing session, I asked former Treasury secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and former deputy Treasury secretary Roger Altman if any of them would be willing to support the idea of a "time out" on new free-trade initiatives until there was some tangible progress toward greater economic security for U.S. workers. To a man, they recoiled at the idea."
Pearlstein describes the powerful moment America finds itself in - we have enough economic power to actually create a race to the top, instead of fueling a race to the bottom. But only if our government actually starts representing ordinary citizens, rather than Big Money:
"The idea here isn't to kill free trade. It's to take it hostage. Right now, the defection of formerly free-trade Democrats has made it impossible to get any trade treaty or trade-negotiating authority through Congress. That's a big problem for the business community, particularly big corporations such as Lucent, AIG and General Electric. Democrats now have a perfect opportunity to deliver what the business community wants -- and to demand in exchange programs designed to provide workers more economic security. But such negotiations will never succeed if influential Democrats give away the store in advance by signaling they support all trade liberalization, unconditionally. No guarantees of health care, pensions, expanded unemployment insurance -- no more trade deals. It's a simple message even chief executives can understand. Voters, too."
What perplexes Pearlstein the most is that these Democratic insiders are so insulated in their Wall Street and K Street offices, they can't even see the raw political benefits of following the heroic trade reformers in their midst:
"To understand why Democrats can't win elections, all you had to do was attend yesterday's symposium at the Brookings Institution put on by the Hamilton Project, an effort by the (Bill) Clinton economic braintrust to generate new ideas and a Democratic election agenda...[Democratic Party support of pushing the "free" trade agenda] is a perfect example of how the Democrats have lost the instinct for the political jugular and the ability to use policy disputes to political advantage."
I wouldn't go that far - I don't think Democrats have lost the instinct for the political jugular. I don't think its that natural - I believe many inside the Democratic Party have competing loyalties: 1) The Democratic Party and 2) Big Money. And I believe when those two loyalties come into competition, too many Democratic Party elites choose Big Money. This, of course, says nothing about the immorality of their advocacy for trade policies that are crushing ordinary Americans.
When will it end? It's hard to say - these people have a huge amount of money at their disposal, and they clearly have absolutely no shame in their efforts to create an economic Darwinism in America. But there are reasons to be hopeful. There are good people running for office and in office who refuse to engage in World-Is-Flat shilling on behalf of Big Money, and who realize that this fight over international trade policy is THE fight for America's economic future. The progressive movement's role is to help these heroes - and punch back when the elitists trot out their transparent B.S.