Obama and Romney Both Love Free Trade

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are doing their best to paint each other as enemies of the American worker, eagerly shipping jobs overseas for either political or financial gain. Does this represent an actual dislike of free trade by the two candidates? Should free traders be trembling at what the next four years will bring? I think Dan Drezner has the beginnings of wisdom here as he struggles to contain his nausea:

Mario Cuomo once said “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”….To update his observation for our current needs, we can say, “You campaign as a mercantilist; you govern as a free-trader.”

….As stomach-churning as I find this kind of ad, I must reluctantly agree [] that it doesn’t matter all that much for governing. Even this Washington Post story that talks about Obama’s “rethinking” of free trade doesn’t really deliver the goods on significant policy shifts. And it appears that even the Chinese government recognizes campaign bluster for what it is.

So — to repeat a theme — I don’t think the mercantilist campaign rhetoric will amount to much.

Agreed. China-bashing is a perennial topic among presidential candidates, but it never amounts to much. It just makes for good stump speeches. Ditto for trade-bashing. Obama and Hillary Clinton both swore mighty oaths that they hated NAFTA back when they were competing for blue-collar votes in the 2008 Ohio primary, and then never mentioned NAFTA again after election day. As with China-bashing, it’s good red meat for the masses, but means nothing.

The current round of outsourcing/offshoring speechifying is similarly meaningless. It’s good campaign fodder, but Obama and Romney will both follow fairly traditional trade policies over the next four years regardless of what they say now. If you’re a fan of trade agreements, you should just turn down the volume on your TV set for the next few months and not worry about things. None of it matters.