There's something happening in Iowa - something that the media has not yet fully caught onto. Ever so quietly, economic populism may be trumping the importance of campaign bank accounts and celebrity in both parties. Ever so quietly, two candidates emulating the best of Huey Long's legacy are emerging as strong contenders in the quest for the presidential nomination, as my new nationally syndicated newspaper column out today details. And that is a good thing not just for those contenders - but for class-unifying progressive politics in general.
This story, which centers around former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D), is only now starting to seep out.
On the Democratic side, this dynamic is probably the most intense. Reuters just today publishes a story headlined "Iowa Voters Take Democrats to Task Over Jobs," noting that trade and globalization are becoming more and more prevalent on the campaign trail. This is likely to be fueled by the fact that Sens. Hillary Clinton (D) and Barack Obama (D) have both come out for the Peru Free Trade Agreement - the controversial bill that expands the NAFTA trade model. It is also likely to be fueled by Clinton surrounding herself with more and more Wall Street titans.
This is truly a battle between what I have called the Money Party and People Party - and it is happening right within the Democratic Party. As the New York Times reports this morning, those inside the Democratic Party pushing this NAFTA-style trade policy are "getting sizable campaign contributions from the sectors that are benefiting the most from the global economy" including "financial services firms, computer chip makers and other high-tech manufacturers." Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), who is the architect of this deal, basically admitted as much, telling CNN after the vote that if you are a worker who is struggling right now, "if you're hurting, then [the Peru agreement] is a bad deal."
Of course, Rangel should be thanked for his candor - at least he's being honest. The same can't be said for the invisible culture of corruption that I wrote about a few weeks ago and that continues to plague Democrats - the one where former Clinton administration officials who are now corporate lobbyists preen around (with significant media assistance) as supposedly disinterested statesmen as they push trade deals that benefit their business clients. Just today, corporate lawyer Stuart Eizenstat, a former Clinton official, is quoted in the New York Times essentially Wall Street that the next Democratic president will still be for NAFTA-style trade policy. "I think if a Democratic president comes in, Democrats will take a broader view of trade than Democrats can in Congress right now," he said, with the Times of course not mentioning that he has a financial stake in pushing these deals.
This is precisely what Edwards has been railing on, not only in his specific critique of NAFTA-style trade policies, but in his general critique of lobbyists and the status quo.
But this dynamic is also playing out on the Republican side as well, as evidenced by new polls out this week showing the populist Huckabee continuing to surge - a phenomenon that continues to frighten the corporate cronies who populate the Republican Party apparatus in Washington. You'll remember that the recent Wall Street Journal survey showed that Republican voters now strongly oppose America's lobbyist-written trade and globalization policies - and thus Huckabee's populist critique is gaining traction, as I warned just a few months ago. That goes not only for Republican presidential politics, but also for GOP congressional politics, too. Check out this story on the Peru Free Trade Agreement from the Cleveland Plain Dealer today:
"So why would [Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH)] oppose today's less controversial [Peru] agreement after supporting the more controversial one a few years ago? Some might think he's trying to boost his standing with the labor movement in Northeast Ohio as he approaches a potentially tough re-election challenge next year. But LaTourette put it this way: 'My fear is that this new agreement might actually weaken rather than strengthen enforcement of labor provisions, which was supposed to be the bill's big selling point,' he said through a spokesman."
LaTourette, of course, is correct - as a Columbia University study shows, the Peru pact and other NAFTA expansions like it could actually weaken protections for workers. But what's more politically interesting is that we now have at least some endangered Republicans actually voting more in defense of American workers than many Democrats. That signals that the issues of trade, corporate power and Washington corruption are truly transcending the parties as the 2008 presidential election heats up - especially true as plant closings continue to ravage Iowa and New Hampshire.
A year and a half ago, I wrote an article for In These Times predicting that trade, globalization and economic inequality would become some of the most important and decisive issues in the 2008 presidential primaries. Frankly, I had no idea the dynamics would be as intense as they are, what with two candidates campaigning so vigorously on working-class issues and with congressional votes to actually expand the NAFTA trade model. But the fact that these issues are becoming so important is really encouraging, regardless of which candidate you support. These are the issues that will determine the course of our country's economic future - and having them be debated in a presidential election setting is a good thing, indeed.
Go read the full column here - and stay tuned in the coming weeks to see what happens. And if you'd like to see my column regularly in your local paper, use this directory to find the contact info for your local editorial page editors. Get get in touch with them and point them to my Creators Syndicate site.
UPDATE: Under the headline "Edwards to Hit Rivals on Trade," ABC News is now reporting that "Edwards is set to pounce on his rivals' support of a free-trade deal with Peru, as he seeks to exploit an opening on an issue that speaks to growing concerns about the economy and the impact of globalization." Hang on tight, folks - the '08 ride is just about to begin.