David Sirota picked up on some interesting language from a speech that Barack Obama gave at the University of Wisconsin after he won the Potomac primaries on Tuesday. It was good stuff for those of us who favor a more populist approach to economic policy by the Democratic Party. Here is a quote from that speech:
"It's a Washington where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear; workers whose right to organize and unionize has been under assault for the last eight years...So today, I'm laying out a comprehensive agenda to reclaim our dream and restore our prosperity. It's an agenda that focuses on three broad economic challenges that the next President must address - the current housing crisis; the cost crisis facing the middle-class and those struggling to join it; and the need to create millions of good jobs right here in America- jobs that can't be outsourced and won't disappear.
For our economy, our safety, and our workers, we have to rebuild America. I'm proposing a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years. This investment will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure spending and generate nearly two million new jobs - many of them in the construction industry that's been hard hit by this housing crisis. The repairs will be determined not by politics, but by what will maximize our safety and homeland security; what will keep our environment clean and our economy strong. And we'll fund this bank by ending this war in Iraq. It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money on putting America back together instead...
It's also time to look to the future and figure out how to make trade work for American workers. I won't stand here and tell you that we can - or should - stop free trade. We can't stop every job from going overseas. But I also won't stand here and accept an America where we do nothing to help American workers who have lost jobs and opportunities because of these trade agreements. And that's a position of mine that doesn't change based on who I'm talking to or the election I'm running in.
You know, in the years after her husband signed NAFTA, Senator Clinton would go around talking about how great it was and how many benefits it would bring. Now that she's running for President, she says we need a time-out on trade. No one knows when this time-out will end. Maybe after the election.
I don't know about a time-out, but I do know this - when I am President, I will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for our environment and protections for American workers. And I'll pass the Patriot Employer Act that I've been fighting for ever since I ran for the Senate - we will end the tax breaks for companies who ship our jobs overseas, and we will give those breaks to companies who create good jobs with decent wages right here in America"
Since NAFTA was signed, Ohio and other northern industrial states, like Illinois, have lost hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs. Clinton has a big problem on this issue because her husband pushed NAFTA. Just think how much better off America would have been if Clinton had linked NAFTA and universal health insurance together, telling American employers that if you want the one, you have to support the other.
This is what Sirota says about Obama's top economic advisor:
With the departure of John Edwards, Obama is a candidate whose top economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, is the only remaining top presidential economic guru who acknowledges that our current trade deals are horrifying - rather than wonderful.
This is what Sirota says about today's political climate:
And though we've seen people like Bill Clinton promise as candidates to get tough on trade and then as president do exactly the opposite, this is a different candidate and a different era - with a much more angry public.
The question becomes which candidate is likely to move beyond the free-trade mindset that has dominated the media landscape since the 1990s, Clinton or Obama? Our money is on Obama because he doesn't have the same baggage on this issue that Clinton has.