02/27/2008 01:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ohio Debate: The Good, The Bad & The Silly

I was on CNBC this morning discussing the presidential race, and the impact of issues like NAFTA on the upcoming Ohio primary. You can watch it here.

As I said to start the interview, NAFTA and trade policy in general is playing a huge role in this campaign. As the Economic Policy Institute shows today, that's understandable in a place like Ohio - and it's terrific that our country is finally having a debate about globalization. Along these lines, three moments stuck out to me last from Hillary Clinton's performance last night (full transcript here) - a good moment, a bad one, and a silly one.

The good - Both Clinton and Obama took very strong positions on trade. Clinton in particular addressed the ridiculous provisions in our current pacts that let multinational corporations sue state and local governments for laws that protect workers, the environment and consumers:

"I have put forward a very specific plan about what I would do, and it does include telling Canada and Mexico that we will opt out unless we renegotiate the core labor and environmental standards -- not side agreements, but core agreements; that we will enhance the enforcement mechanism; and that we will have a very clear view of how we're going to review NAFTA going forward to make sure it works, and we're going to take out the ability of foreign companies to sue us because of what we do to protect our workers."

The bad - Clinton continued to pretend she never supported NAFTA - in contrast to her record giving many speeches over the last decade in support of NAFTA. Clinton actually wore a straight face when she said this last night:

"I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning."

The silly - After the debate on trade, moderator Tim Russert asked Obama about Louis Farrakhan, and Obama harshly repudiated the Nation of Islam leader's anti-semitism. Clinton followed by attempted to claim that standing up against anti-semitism when running for statewide office in New York is a sign of her own courage:

"I faced a similar situation when I ran for the Senate in 2000 in New York. And in New York, there are more than the two parties, Democratic and Republican. And one of the parties at that time, the Independence Patty, was under the control of people who were anti-Semitic, anti- Israel. And I made it very clear that I did not want their support. I rejected it. I said that it would not be anything I would be comfortable with. And it looked as though I might pay a price for that. But I would not be associated with people who said such inflammatory and untrue charges against either Israel or Jewish people in our country...And, you know, I was willing to take that stand."

While I appreciate anyone standing up against any kind of race/ethnic/religious hate, trying to portray standing up to anti-semitism as a specifically courageous move in New York politics is just downright silly. It is certainly admirable - but it isn't courageous in New York, a state with one of the largest Jewish communities in the world.