Wednesday's Wall Street Journal has an article on Iowa voter unease about foreign competition and the different ways the Presidential candidates are responding: A Globalization Winner Joins in Trade Backlash (Deborah Solomon and Gregg Hitt, November 21). The title refers to the irony of trade-angst in a state that's done relatively well by globalization. No new poll results.
Here's the discussion of candidate positions (note the commentary by Robert Reich, Clinton's Secretary of Labor):
Democratic presidential candidates figure it'll take more than preaching the virtues of higher education to placate trade-wary voters. On the stump, the top contenders say they support globalization but are pledging to oppose trade deals that don't benefit American workers. They are promising to lift wages through tax policies that let middle-class workers keep more of what they earn and by negotiating free-trade agreements with labor and environmental standards.
Such deals would -- in theory -- boost wages here by increasing wages overseas and removing some of the competitive advantages of doing business in other countries, where environmental standards are less stringent.
"My sense is that the families of Iowa have now concluded that the modest benefit to them from cheaper goods that flow through Wal-Mart have been overwhelmed by stagnating wages," says Leo Hindery, the former cable-TV chief who is now the top economic policy adviser to Mr. Edwards. "Iowa, like a lot of states, looks back at Nafta and says, 'Nafta did not work as promised.' " Mr. Edwards criticizes Nafta, which eliminated tariffs and other trade barriers between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as bad for workers, saying it needs to be "revised" to include labor and environmental standards.
That's spurred other candidates to follow suit, most notably Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has said he would seek to make Nafta more favorable to the U.S. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have also backed legislation to punish China for manipulating its currency, which critics say is kept artificially low to give the country a leg up in global trade.
Tough talk on trade may play well in Iowa, but it's upsetting some members of the Democratic establishment, who say the candidates are threatening to unravel one of former President Clinton's enduring legacies -- shifting the Democratic party away from protectionist proclivities.
"It's unfortunate that the Democrats are willing to describe trade as part of the problem," says Robert Reich, President Clinton's labor secretary. He worries the current crop of Democratic contenders will undo Mr. Clinton's progress and potentially enact policies that hurt economic growth. "It's pandering to a misconception in the public. The truth is that trade is good for the U.S. but that some people are burdened by it far more than others. We've got to make them all winners, but you don't make them winners by attacking trade," he says.
Republicans, meanwhile, have made the political calculation that most Americans want to see a continuation of open borders because it means cheaper goods and a stronger U.S. economy. Most are addressing the angst by nibbling around the edges -- promising stronger job protection and wages but steering clear of bashing China or promoting expanded government programs to help the middle class.
But the issue is creating rifts among Republicans. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, has talked openly of the downsides of trade, throwing his support behind expanding a government program to help displaced workers make up lost wages. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose popularity in Iowa is rising, speaks openly of worker concerns and embraces language used by critics of globalization. "There's no free trade without fair trade," he says.
On the other end is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who last month traveled to South Carolina -- a state hard-hit by trade-related layoffs -- to argue for an aggressive expansion of free-trade deals. Mr. Romney calls for better enforcement of existing trade agreements and improved worker-retraining programs.
He also excoriates the Democrats for their approach. During a speech at the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Romney presented a slide presentation where photos of his Democratic rivals were topped with the headline "Democrats' Strategy of Defeat and Retreat: Stop the World We Want to Get Off." Mr. Romney is currently leading polls of Republican voters in Iowa.
"Trade is a valid issue to discuss," says David Malpass, an economic adviser to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another Republican candidate. "The mayor wants to discuss it in optimistic, growth-oriented terms, rather than taking the attitude that Americans can't compete with the Chinese, which is at the core of the Democrats' position."