Column: You’re Shocked W Flip-Flopped on Free Trade?

News at Home

Mr. Carpenter is a writer and doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Illinois.

I can't for the life of me understand why so many pundits are expressing shocked disgust over George W.'s about-face on the marvels of free trade and the evils of protectionism. Journalistic minds from the left to far-right of center are heaving forth reams of outraged verbiage on the president's befouling hypocrisy and indefensible transgression against his campaign promises. Perhaps these blokes don't read their own newspapers. There's nothing shocking or even particularly noteworthy here. Indeed, flip-flopping on campaign pledges--something covered in the press on virtually a daily basis for 14 months now--is the only act of consistency thus displayed by the White House, excepting of course its bleeding-heart efforts to further fatten the wallets of already very corpulent cats.

Writing about W's schmoozing up to the Steelworkers Union and dissing of conservatism's scriptural libertarianism, one journalist-commentator noted that the president acted"with a cravenness that surprised even his critics." Another observed he had"blatantly abandon[ed] his previous free-trade commitments." The editorial board of the ideologically fickled Washington Post lamented the administration's internal conflict between cheap talk and actual deeds, and the New York Times in a"news analysis" pointed out that W's trade representative, Bob Zoellick, had recently asserted that tariffs"hurt low- and moderate-income people," yet now maintains the 30 percent steel tax will have no"significant effect on the economic recovery and growth."

The sad affliction of cognitive dissonance may keep some folks up at night, and the"tens of thousands of layoffs in steel-using firms" predicted by a Brookings Institution economist are sure to disturb the sleep of quite a few more, but such trifles are no problem for Bob and George. Their peaceful slumber is merely proof of John Locke's proposition of tabula rasa. For them each morning is a whole new day, a whole new universe, a whole new opportunity to decide what's right, right now.

Even George Will smote the president with the worst sort of righteous malignity that any neolithic conservative could conceivably conjure. W's"political opportunism" on the steel tariff, Mr. Will wrote, was"less principled than Bill Clinton." Talk about hitting below the belt. But come now, George F., every right winger who's a member in good standing of the Friedrich Hayek Fan Club knows that's just not possible. Beelzebub himself is still a heavenly archangel compared to that dope-smoking, draft-dodging, duplicitous prince of darkness, Slick Willie.

Actually, the consistent flip-flopping practiced by Bush II parallels another thread of consistency: W's yearning for approval from dear ol' dad. During the 2000 campaign the Minneapolis Star Tribune noted that"back when George Bush occupied the White House, his aides dismissively tossed around a word when they talked about such things as international trade.... They waved them away as 'globaloney'--secondary stuff compared with nuclear arms and defense policy." One can easily imagine today's dynastic caretaker anxiously waiting by the honker for the kingfather's pat-on-the-head call."Good work, my boy. You and I are above all this twaddling globaloney--and don't let the soon-to-be unemployed outside your target states get ya' down."

The Star Tribune went on to note that things had changed, though."If anything, Gore and Bush [II] have engaged in one-upsmanship over who more passionately embraces free trade. 'I will work to create an entire hemisphere in free trade,' Bush said last spring. 'I will work to extend the benefits of NAFTA from the northernmost Alaska to the tip of Cape Horn.'" Naturally, the paper could not have known W would soon be vying in one-upsmanship with Dick"The Union Cabal Guy" Gephardt over protectionism. The Star Tribune--and the nation--had not yet been blessed by W's Harvard Business School training. (One wonders: Has Harvard ever revoked an MBA by reason of postgraduate yet sophomoric boobery? Surely not, because it would then also have to take away that Ph.D. from Alan Keyes.)

There are other gems from campaign history still available for one's reading amusement. For example, so that an informed electorate could know precisely where their man stood on the issues, the New Orleans Times-Picayune in March 2000 reported on W's pronounced insight that trade protectionism is but a"shortcut to chaos, an approach that abandons our allies and our ideals." Of course, no one could have known then, given his distinguished record of honorable achievements, that W's"shortcut to chaos" jive was only intended as a primer on what to expect.

And overseas--those piddling backwaters that have a wee-bit of interest in the globaloney of international trade with Dynasty redux--the Australian Business Review Weekly said approvingly in October 2000 that"Bush speaks of 'free' trade almost exclusively." Gore, on the other hand,"often refers to 'fair trade'"--the protectionist blackguard.

So to all you commentators preoccupied with tsk-tsking Bush II's latest so-called outrage, I say wake up and smell the imported coffee. It was no outrage; just another demonstration of irreproachable, royal consistency.

© Copyright 2002 P. M. Carpenter

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Pierre Troublion - 3/11/2002

P.M. Carpenter has hit the nail on the head (again). Bush Junior has saved more brain cells from nefarious attacking pretzels than is generally realized in "liberal" circles. He knows he'd better do better in November 2004 than he did in November 2000 if he is to obtain a second term in the White House. Will the now supposedly "outraged" commentators realize that (beyond the expensive and overdue clearing-out of the feeding-hand-biting and historical-treasure-destroying Taliban) the glorious and ever-redefinable "war" on terrorism has so far been mainly a image-polishing means of making a foreign policy novice appear statesmanlike ? Well, maybe the steel tariff fiasco will rouse some of the timid and the duped from slumber, but it could also be that more egregious blunders will be needed.