By now, everyone is familiar with the Canadian television report that alleged an Obama adviser went to the Canadian government and told officials that Obama’s NAFTA-bashing is merely campaign rhetoric, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Turns out, it may well be true. Someone leaked a memo to the AP that describes a meeting between Obama’s senior economic policy adviser Austan Goolsbee and officials with the Canadian consulate in Chicago. In the memo, Goolsbee’s comments on NAFTA on portrayed this way:
“Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”
The Obama campaign has responded by saying Goolsbee visited with the Canadian officials strictly as a professor from the University of Chicago, not as an envoy from the Obama campaign. And for good measure, it is saying Goolsbee was misquoted. A spokesman says, “It all boils down to a clumsy, inaccurate portrayal of the conversation.” Goolsbee calls the memo’s summary of his views “ham-handed.”
Ham-handedness aside, this is a gift to the Clinton campaign, which will use it to maximum effect in Ohio, where NAFTA has cost untold thousands of manufacturing jobs. Clinton herself has already said, “I don’t think people should come to Ohio and tell the people of Ohio one thing and then have your campaign tell a foreign government something else behind closed doors. That’s the kind of difference between talk and action and that I’ve been pointing out in this campaign.”
The only good thing for the Obama campaign about this story, accurate or not, is that it came one day before the Ohio primary, and not one week.
Update: I like Noam Scheiber’s take at the New Republic:
I suspect Goolsbee was doing what campaign officials often do, which is try to tailor his message to the group he was addressing without undercutting any core principles or stated positions. It wouldn’t shock me if the Canadians heard a bit more of what they wanted to hear than what Goolsbee actually said (that’s often the point, after all). And Goolsbee, who’s trained as an economist, not a campaign operative, may have been a little casual in parsing his terms.