06/19/2007 03:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Memo to John Edwards: Hillary's Achilles' Heel -- "It's the Stupid Economy"

You need to "own" the global political economy issue.

You cannot do this with your rhetoric about trade agreements, however. Union members are already being bombarded with sliced and diced "he said, she said" on who supported which trade agreement. You need to serve up some totally new formulations. For example, change the debate from "renminbi & revaluation" to "rights and responsibilities."

We need to track labor, press and religious rights in China; the regime's claims on protecting workers won't stand up to scrutiny. (I researched latter issue in Indonesia with 220 USAID-funded surveyors for 2 1/2 years.)

A trip to East Asia will raise some eyebrows and every time you speak on "the global economy", hundreds of bloggers and union newsletters will launch a fusillade of "stupid" stories, such as the following. (Stuff you cannot say, but we can.)

How stupid is this global economy? How much was it crafted by Team Clinton?

Listen to Carville who sums it up nicely. When asked about his lucrative ties to Nike (and sweatshops), he berates the reporter for asking, snarling, "I own stock in Royal Dutch Shell, too." This is as if to say that any Democrat who was internationalist and concerned with Human Rights ought to just get with the program; just go get "yours" and don't worry about the other guy. Carville dismissed concern about abused workers as "protectionist."

This approach to the global political economy may make sense for some Republicans and their big business allies, but it's just plain stupid for a Democrat.

Larry Summers, famous for suggesting that rich countries should dump more toxic waste in less-developed countries, was a high-flying economics professor who, as Chief Economist of the World Bank, commissioned a study, "The East Asian Miracle" that explained why suppressing unions was good for business. Let's see, economic development in export industries follows the promise to keep wages below-subsistence and send protesting workers to jail -- a real "miracle."

How stupid was this statement, made by a Democrat appointed to the top international trade position at Treasury? We'll just have to "swallow hard" when we see how workers and the environment are treated in the "big emerging markets." (With laws on the books saying we ought to DO something about it? Thanks for nothing, Mr. Jeffrey E. Garten.) More recently, he said he'd have to "swallow hard" to suggest the Chinese authoritarian model for the Mid-East -- but that's exactly what he did!

Rather than get tough with the thuggish Suharto, Clinton dispatched Lloyd Bentsen, then Mickey Kantor and finally the feckless Warren Christopher to ask if the former army general might consider means other than using the Indonesian military to break up strikes in shoe and apparel factories near Jakarta. Of course, Suharto told them all "yes" and the abuses, wage-cheating and interrogation of "troublemakers" continued unabated.

All this stupidity backed Bill into a corner in 1996 when labor rights activist, Charlie Kernaghan, found child workers stitching up K-Mart clothes with Kathie Lee Gifford hang tags. His meticulous research rocked the industry and gave the lie to Bill's "win-win" free-trade world view. Not daring to break with neo-liberal "DLC" orthodoxy (just get the state out of the way), an industry self-regulation scheme was cooked up (the "Apparel Industry Partnership") with Gene Sperling -- now advising Hillary on labor/trade issues -- in charge of deflating the tires of the most promising international "social justice" movement since S. Africa divestment.

Where was the faux-progressive Robert Reich, you may well ask. I saw him totally dissemble when a smart old priest at Boston College asked him about bringing countries like Indonesia into line by denying important trade privileges. (Within Clinton's power; eschewed as a tactic.)

Just last month, Joe Stiglitz said that China's economic model (mid-1990s to present) was a "resounding success" and that we should all hope that the Communist rulers' new model succeeds. Not a word about bringing democracy into the picture. Or a free press. While praising Beijing's corrupt regime, he chides those who "trump up charges of unfair competition." And this bit, which sounds like it came from a PR firm, "At every level, there is a consciousness of environmental limits..."

Joe is smarter than (fellow Columbia U. prof) Jeff Sachs, but just as shameless, it seems. Sachs, you'll remember, took a huge no-bid USAID contract to sell off Russia's riches to oligarchs. Harvard (Sachs' enabler at the time) had to pay $25 million back to Uncle Sam because of corrupt insider deals (welcome to the global economy, Russian brother and sisters).

Most disturbing is that "all this stupidity" cascades into an "anything goes" mentality.

First example, Nobel-laureate economist, Michael Spence told a business school audience in Singapore that businesses must be "ruthless" about outsourcing. Since when did "ruthless" enter the lexicon of distinguished biz school deans?

Second example, last September in London "emerging markets" investment guru, Dr. Mark Mobius said: "Chinese 'capitalism' will become the global standard" He continues, "Some emerging market companies like those in South Africa are an effective way to get access to Africa because they know how to bribe and can operate in that environment."

Such cynicism and amorality would hardly disqualify Dr. Mobius from an exalted position such as joint chairman of the World Bank and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Global Corporate Governance Forum's "Investor Responsibility Taskforce." In this "stupid" world, anyway.