Politics of CAFTA

Just to pick up on a post by Ezra Klein here, the Washington Post is running this paragraph today in a story on CAFTA:

But the Democrats’ near-unanimous stand against CAFTA carries long-term risks for a party leadership struggling to regain the appearance of a moderate governing force, some Democrats acknowledge. A swing toward isolationism could reinforce voters’ suspicions that the party is beholden to organized labor and is anti-business, while jeopardizing campaign contributions, especially from Wall Street

Well, this all seems quite airy to me. “[M]oderate governing force,” eh? Let’s look at some actual poll numbers, namely, the recent and massive Pew Press poll that divided voters up into different subgroups. On the question of whether trade agreements are “bad for the U.S.” or “good for the U.S.,” the only core Democratic constituency that’s overwhelmingly in favor are “liberals,” 50-44 percent. Needless to say, they’re not in any danger of leaving the Democratic party. Meanwhile, the two other core Democratic groups—”Disadvantaged Dems” and “Conservative Democrats”—are much more tepid on trade agreements. As for the swing-voter groups, “Disaffecteds” lean slightly against trade agreements, 43-40, while the “Upbeats” are very much in favor, 59-24. But on the other hand, no more than 47 percent of any conservative subgroup thinks trade agreements are a good thing, and “social conservatives” are far and away the most pessimistic group on this issue, with only 36 percent thinking trade agreements are good.

So three things: first, CAFTA is not a “swing toward isolationism,” can we please not overstate how very minor this trade agreement is? (Which is precisely why many of us don’t think it’s worth hacking up labor standards for—the imports and exports seemed to be moving along just fine under the Generalized System of Preferences, which required that countries afford “internationally recognized labor rights”.) Second, even if it was such a swing, it’s not clear that an anti-trade stance would necessarily hurt Democrats—although they would lose support among the “Upbeats,” perhaps a crucial swing group. Perhaps. Third, why doesn’t someone write a story about how core Republican constituencies are overwhelmingly against trade agreements, so Bush is taking a massive risk by supporting CAFTA. Hmmm?

Meanwhile, the point about campaign contributions from Wall Street is perhaps a better one; like it or not Democrats will still depend on this source of funding for a long, long time. On the other hand, the two big groups that stand to make a killing from CAFTA are the pharmaceutical industry and the telecommunications industry. In an ideal world, Democrats would be pushing for universal health care and laxer patent protections, so Big Pharma is sort of a natural enemy anyway. And the telecommunications industry ought to be re-regulated so that we can all have the sort of low-cost, high-speed internet that people in Japan enjoy. So not to be too flippant here, but are these really the worst of Wall Street allies to lose?


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