Going into the West Virginia primary, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has come out in opposition to a “lame duck” vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This takes her beyond her previous statements mildly opposing TPP. Clinton also made a strong statement criticizing our country’s trade agreements in general.
As reported in The Hill, in “Clinton opposes TPP vote in the lame-duck session,” Clinton replied to a questionnaire from the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, which consists of more than 25 labor, environmental and human rights organizations. When asked, “If elected President, would you oppose holding a vote on the TPP during the ‘lame duck’ session before you take office?” she replied, “I have said I oppose the TPP agreement — and that means before and after the election.”
There has been concern that TPP will come up for a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress after the election, and before the next Congress is sworn in. This special session enables votes with little accountability to the public. Members who have been voted out can vote in ways that help them get lobbying jobs and members who were re-elected with corporate money can reward their donors.
Is it really “extreme” to think we should have fair trade policies?
The New York Times on Tuesday published a story by Nelson D. Schwartz and Quoctrung Bui, “Where Jobs Are Squeezed by Chinese Trade, Voters Seek Extremes,” reporting that, “research to be unveiled this week by four leading academic economists suggests that the damage to manufacturing jobs from a sharp acceleration in globalization since the turn of the century has contributed heavily to the nation’s bitter political divide.”
By “sharp acceleration in globalization since the turn of the century” they mean millions and millions of manufacturing jobs, and more than 60,000 factories, all moved to China since 2000 to take advantage of China’s non-democracy that allows exploitation of workers and the environment. (But China doesn’t really “trade” with us by buying things, resulting in a record $365.7 billion trade deficit with China just last year.)
Wild in the streets…
Meanwhile, another campaign slogan is…
This post is for Richard Escow.
For some time now most of the people in this country have been under economic pressure. Pay is not going up very much or at all, while living costs keep rising. One recent statistic stands out – 63 percent of Americans would have difficulty raising $500 to cover an emergency, like a sudden need for car repair so they can get to work. Around them the community’s roads and schools and services are in decline.
Most of the public can see this clearly, yet so many elites can’t see at all, and see it or not, they do little or nothing to make things better. This arrogance of our blind, well-fixed elites is helping drive the Donald Trump phenomenon.
Among the “establishment” – the people “in charge” of our “system,” including the news and opinion elites who serve as gatekeepers of information – there is willful blindness to how things have been getting worse for millions of Americans and their communities. They tell the voters they are wrong, that our trade policies are actually good for them.
The voters turn to Trump, who promises he will make it all better, that it will be beautiful.
No one else (except Sanders) is offering hope.
Magazines Are Good For Us
A perfect example of that elite blindness is last week’s Washington Post “Fact Checker” piece, “Trump’s trade rhetoric, stuck in a time warp” by Glenn Kessler.
According to Kessler, Trump “appears to have not been reading newspapers or economic magazines enough to understand that globalization has changed the face of the world economy, for good or bad. In an interconnected world, it’s no longer a zero sum game in which jobs are either parked in the United States or overseas.”
Right, magazines. That’s the ticket. Trump (and his supporters) should read more magazines that publish elites like Kessler, who can use a lot of big words like “globalization” and “interconnected” and tell laid-off workers to suck it up because it’s “no longer a zero sum game” and that’s that. Too bad for you. If they would only read more magazines they would understand why moving their jobs out of the country is good for all of us.
The Trade Deficit Is Good For Us
On Trump’s complaints about the trade deficit, Kessler writes, “Trump frequently suggests the United States is ‘losing money’ when there is a trade deficit, but that reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. Americans want to buy these products from overseas, either because of quality or price.”
This is simply an astonishing statement. In 2015, the U.S. had a goods trade deficit of $758.9 billion. We have closed so many factories here and moved the jobs there that we paid out $758.9 billion more for imports than we received from exports. That did not happen because “Americans want to buy these products from overseas”; that happened because the owners of the factories wanted to dodge American wages and environmental protection costs, and move production to places where workers are made to live in barracks, forced to stand for 10 hours, and get paid squat.
Moving Jobs Out Of The Country Is Good For Us
Then Kessler gets into the old game of saying that moving the jobs out of the country is good for us because we all get to pay lower prices.
Kessler also says all those jobs aren’t gone because we moved millions and millions of jobs out of the country so investors could pay lower wages, pollute all they want and pocket all of the savings; no, the jobs are gone because of “increased productivity.”
“The manufacturing sector has declined as a source of jobs in the United States, but again Trump would be fighting against economic shifts long in the making. American manufacturing has becomes incredibly productive, so fewer workers are needed to make the same number of goods.”
Kessler makes excuse after excuse, but think back to that $758.9 billion goods trade deficit. Imagine what would happen to the U.S. economy – and to the economic lives of all those Trump supporters – if U.S. manufacturers received $758.9 billion of orders right now. And then another $758.9 billion in orders next year. Think about the factories opening, the workers hired, the wage increases as companies fought to get enough workers, the ripple effect for the suppliers, the stores where people shop and the overall economic health of the communities where these workers live and work.
That is the effect of that trade deficit. It is $758.9 billion of orders our factories are not getting, because that is how much more we are importing than making here.
It isn’t about productivity; it’s about a $758.9 billion goods trade deficit.
NAFTA Was Good For Us
Kessler also explains to ignorant, laid-off auto workers whose jobs were moved to Mexico why this was good for them.
As a result of NAFTA, the United States, Canada and Mexico constitute an economically integrated market, especially for the auto industry. Auto parts and vehicles produced in each country freely flow over the borders, without tariffs or other restrictions, as thousands of part suppliers serve the automakers that build the vehicles. This is known as the “motor vehicle supply chain.” In fact, the prospective Ford plant that Trump complains about appears to be intended to produce cars for export from Mexico — and thus would free up production to produce more trucks in the United States.
Visit Flint, Detroit, other places where workers were laid off and factories were shut down and moved to Mexico. Look at the devastation that resulted, and tell people why this is good for them.
Meanwhile the Mexican auto-worker wage is around $26 a day. That’s $26 per day, not per hour. Workers who try to improve conditions are fired. A newspaper Kessler never reads (he reads magazines) reported last year, in “Workers may be losers in Mexico’s car boom” on the working conditions for those Mexican auto workers who have those jobs that used to be in Detroit and Flint and similar places.
“They don’t treat you with humanity. It was exploitation in general,” said Ricardo Gutierrez, 32, who had spent two years at the plant before losing his job. “But there was nothing we could do.”
[. . .] For a job with 12-hour days, often including weekends, that paid about $75 a week — with $3 of that disappearing into union dues — some decided it was not worth it.
[. . .] “They threatened me. They told me if I didn’t sign, nobody was going to give me work, because they were going to tell all the car companies bad things about me,” Rodriguez said. “Since then, I’ve been looking for work. But I can’t find anything.”
But moving jobs to Mexico was really good for all of us, you see.
Laying People Off And Rehiring At Low Wages Is Good For Us
Who doesn’t know someone whose job was shipped to China? Or who was threatened with their job being moved if they try to demand a raise? Or who is afraid their job will be shipped to China if they take a sick day or a vacation day.
The American workforce consists of:
1) People whose jobs were moved out of the country, who when took forever to find a new one (if they ever did) and who get paid much less now. In the process, maybe they lost their house or their retirement savings.
2) People who know someone this happened to.
3) People who are afraid this will happen to them. This creates a climate of fear. They don’t take vacations or sick days. They take on extra work at nights or weekends. They work “on call,” never far from the phone and checking work email into the night. They try to make everyone else look bad so they’re not first on the firing line.
4) People who don’t get raises as a result of 1, 2 or 3. Meanwhile the cost of living, rent, health insurance co-pays, etc. keeps going up and up. Pressure builds. (Trump beckons…)
5) People who are doing really well, maybe write op-eds for a living, have a great stock portfolio, don’t believe 1, 2, 3 or 4 exist at all, and believe “everyone is better off because of free trade.” (They also read magazines, apparently.)
The people in categories 1, 2, 3 and 4 are potential Trump voters. People in category 5 just don’t get it. Kessler and similar elites are in category 5.
It’s Their Own Fault Anyway
Our elite class loves to explain to laid-off workers why their woes are their own fault. They don’t have a college degree. They should have started their own companies. They’re on drugs. They don’t know how to program computers. They’re too fat or lazy or dim to quickly adapt.
Trump beckons… “There will be so many jobs.” “It will be beautiful.”
At least New York Times columnist David Brooks doesn’t try to arrogantly dismiss the concerns of Trump voters. In last week’s “No, Not Trump, Not Ever,” he writes,
Well, some respect is in order. Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.
Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.
Trump voters are “a coalition of the dispossessed.” Government has done nothing for them. Elites: You’re not going to stop Trump by telling his voters how wrong they are about the economy and the effects of our country’s trade policies. They’re not wrong. You are. They’re not stuck in a time warp. You are.
“Free trade”: The elites are selling it but the public is longer buying it. Look at the support for Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump, especially in light of Sanders’ surprise 20-point comeback in this week’s Michigan primary. With primaries coming soon in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, will Sanders’ trade appeal resonate again?
Voters See Free Trade Killing Their Jobs And Wages
Voters have figured out that our country’s current “free trade” policies are killing their jobs, wages, cities, regions and the country’s middle class. Giant multinational corporations and billionaires do great under free trade, the rest of us not so much.
Elites say increasing trade is always good. But when you close a factory here, then open the factory “there” and bring the same goods back to sell in the same outlets, you have “increased trade” because those goods now cross a border. The differential between wages paid here and there goes into the pockets of the executives and shareholders. Those unemployed American workers add to wage pressures on the rest of us. Inequality increases.
There are other bad consequences as the effects of free trade ripple through local economies. The stores and gas stations and restaurants where the workers shopped and dined have to cut back. The factory’s suppliers have to cut back and lay off, too. Property values drop in the neighborhoods where all of those workers lived. The local tax base erodes. Roads and buildings and downtowns deteriorate… (The old lead pipes going to the houses do not get replaced.)
On a national scale, these local effects add up to a tragedy.
The national industrial ecosystem collapses as well. The manufacturing “know-how” migrates out of the country. The schools that taught people how to do what the factory did drop those classes. The investors who know how to evaluate manufacturing proposals go away. The raw materials pipeline migrates away. Reviving the outsourced industries will require tremendous and nationally coordinated investment.
For decades we’ve been told all this is actually good for “us.” But people have come to understand that the “us” this is good for doesn’t include about 99 percent of “us” or our country.
Trade Behind Sanders’ Michigan Upset
Sanders’ Michigan primary upset was most likely driven by his repeated trade message. Michigan’s primary upset demonstrates again that voters have caught on that our country’s trade policies have sent millions of jobs out of the country, put tremendous downward pressure on wages, decimated regions of the country (Flint, Detroit, the “rust belt”) and are dealing a death blow to America’s middle class.
Watch this Sanders ad on the damage our trade deals have done:
While people talk about “NAFTA” (the North American Free Trade Agreement) the term is really used as a shorthand for all of our country’s disastrous trade policies, including the millions of jobs and tens of thousands of factories outsourced to China.
Dave Jamieson, Labor Reporter at The Huffington Post, writes about how trade contributed to Sanders’ upset, in “Why Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump Won The Michigan Primaries“:
The exit polling from Michigan indicates that most voters there are wary of free trade agreements — and that Sanders and Trump drubbed their opponents among those voters.
According to CNN, 58 percent of Democratic voters polled after casting ballots said they believe U.S. trade with other countries takes away U.S. jobs, compared with just 30 percent who said they believe it creates them. Among that group, Sanders won by a whopping 17-point margin: 58 percent to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s 41 percent. He won the primary overall by less than a 2-point margin.
[. . .] Trade — and resentment toward U.S. trade policy — has been the sleeper issue in 2016. By eliminating trade barriers with low-wage countries, the North American Free Trade Agreement and subsequent treaties over the past two decades have encouraged U.S. companies to move jobs to countries where workers are paid less.
Sanders has made a point of pressing Clinton on trade throughout the Democratic debates, including just days ago. The Vermont independent has been a vocal opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries championed by President Barack Obama. Clinton’s stance on the deal hasn’t beennearly as clear.
The New York Times reported in “Trade and Jobs Key to Victory for Bernie Sanders“:
Mr. Sanders pulled off a startling upset in Michigan on Tuesday by traveling to communities far from Detroit and by hammering Mrs. Clinton on an issue that resonated in this still-struggling state: her past support for trade deals that workers here believe robbed them of manufacturing jobs. Almost three-fifths of voters said that trade with other countries was more likely to take away jobs, according to exit polls by Edison Research, and those voters favored Mr. Sanders by a margin of more than 10 points.
At The Washington Post, David Weigel and Lydia DePillis write in, “Voters skeptical on free trade drive Sanders, Trump victories in Michigan“:
The salience of trade, in a state where unemployment had tumbled more than half since the start of the Great Recession, blindsided a Democratic Party that has struggled to find coherence between its labor base and its neoliberal leadership. It also worried Republicans, whose leaders and donors are resolutely in favor of free trade.
“There has been a bipartisan conventional wisdom that the damage done to working-class jobs and incomes are simply part of inevitable changes, ones we cannot and should not challenge,” said Larry Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Even President Obama is blaming inequality problems on technological change, which is not even a plausible explanation for post-2000 America. People correctly understand that many elites simply believe that wage stagnation is something we cannot change.”
… In Michigan, exit pollsters for the first time asked voters whether they thought trade created or took away American jobs. The “take away” faction made up 55 percent of the Republican primary vote and 57 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Trump won the GOP faction with 45 percent, and Sanders won the Democratic side with 56 percent.
A YUGE part of Donald Trump’s appeal is his position on trade. A new poll shows that 66% of Republican voters oppose TPP.
Last week’s post, Trump Taps Into Economic Anxiety Resulting From ‘Free Trade’ noted that “Trump is tapping into an economic anxiety felt by many, many Americans. Our trade policies are at the root of this anxiety, and Trump knows it and says it, and people nod their heads.” Here is Trump speaking after the “Super Tuesday” primaries:
Our nation is in serious trouble. we’re being killed on trade, absolutely destroyed, China is just taking advantage of us. I have nothing against China, I have great respect for China but their leaders are just too smart of our leaders, our leaders don’t have a clue. And the trade deficits at 400 billion dollars and 500 billion dollars, are too much, no country can sustain that kind of trade deficit. It won’t be that way for long, we have the greatest business leaders in the world, on my team already, and believe me we’re going to redo those trade deals and it’s going to be a thing of beauty.
Trump has been sounding this message throughout his campaign. Here is Trump on trade from last November:
Trump on Sanders:
“I’ll tell you, there’s one thing that we’ve very similar on,” Trump said during a town hall hosted by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. “He knows that our country is being ripped off big league, big league, on trade.”
Elites Getting The Message
The country’s elites might just be getting the message. The D.C. insider newsletter Daily 202 agrees, in “Six explanations for Bernie Sanders’s surprise win in Michigan“:
1. A message of economic populism, particularly protectionism, is much more potent in the Rust Belt than we understood.
Most Michiganders feel like they are victims of trade deals, going back to NAFTA under Bill Clinton, and they’re deeply suspicious of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Outsourcing has helped hollow out the state’s once mighty manufacturing core.
Trump and Sanders both successfully tapped into this.
Six in 10 Michigan Democratic primary voters said international trade takes away U.S. jobs, and Sanders won these voters by roughly 20 points, according to preliminary exit poll data reported by CNN. Only 3 in 10 thought trade creates jobs; Clinton won that group.
One-third of voters said Clinton is too pro-business. Sanders won more than four in five of them.
… Clinton, after speaking supportively of the TPP, flip-flopped once the agreement was signed.
Similarly, D.C.-insider Politico, “5 takeaways from Bernie’s Michigan miracle“:
4. Free trade is Clinton’s albatross. Just as the cable networks were calling the shocker for Sanders, an email popped into my inbox from one architect of Obama’s 2008 triumph, who was travelling overseas. “Americans really hate free trade,” he wrote. “Don’t know how else to explain it. Same thing running through republican race.”
Clinton … has the burden of schlepping the albatross of NAFTA with her throughout the Midwest. This is where voters’ lack of trust and her core belief in the value of open markets for American manufacturers collide: When Clinton questions free trade nobody really believes her; Sanders’ thunderous anti-free trade talk taps a vein of deep grievance, his cash advantage allowed him to saturate markets with word of his opposition to TPP and NAFTA – and his debate-stage answer on the topic was pithier and more convincing than Clinton’s.
Will Sanders’ Trade Position Resonate In Upcoming Primaries?
There are primaries coming soon in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, and there are signs that a fair trade message is breaking through. The Alliance for American Manufacturing took a look at one of these states, Ohio, writing in,” Ohioans Love Manufacturing — and Favor Getting Tough on China Trade“:
And a new statewide poll of likely Ohio voters finds trade will likely be a dominant issue in the March 15 primary, as vast majorities of respondents worry that the United States has “lost too many manufacturing jobs” and think it would be effective to “crack down on foreign countries that violate their trade agreements.”
… Conducted Feb. 27 to March 2 by Public Opinion Research and The Mellman Group, the poll looked at voter opinion on trade, manufacturing and the presidential candidates. Researchers discovered that while support for American manufacturing is nearly universal, majorities of respondents are worried about a shrinking middle class and the impact of manufacturing job loss.
Most participants are also concerned about foreign trade, including with China. Ninety-one percent agreed that it’s time for crack down on countries that violate trade agreements, and 83 percent said that it is important that China is officially declared a currency manipulator.
… Other key findings:
● 93 percent of participants worry that the U.S. has “lost too many manufacturing jobs in this country.”
● 74 percent of participants have unfavorable views of “manufactured goods made in China,” including 77 percent of “conservative” respondents.
● 96 percent of participants are favorable of “manufactured goods made in America,” including 98 percent of “conservative members of the GOP.”
● 92 percent of participants think that “too many jobs are being shipped overseas” and 86 percent are worried they “don’t seem to manufacture anything here in America anymore.”
Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina have also been hammered by outsourcing of jobs caused by trade policies and likely have similar sentiments.
There Is A Better Way To Do Trade
Current U.S. trade policies are written by representatives of multinational corporations with the intent of locking in their dominance while driving wages and environmental costs down. The resulting agreements are clearly in their interests and not the rest of us. Our country’s enormous, humongous trade deficit is a metric for understanding the damage being done to our country.
Now that the public is clearly rejecting the current trade approach, there are alternatives available. Just having non-corporate stakeholders including representatives of labor, consumer, human rights, environmental and other groups at the table would bring about a more fair and just trade regime.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has released “Trade Principles that Put Workers First in Trade Agreements.” Click through for details, but summarized:
● Protect Congress’ Authority to Set Trade Policy
● Restore Balanced trade
● Put Workers First
● Stop Currency Manipulation
● Expand Buy America Procurement Practices
● Protect the Environment for Future Generations
● Prioritize Consumers above Profits
● Protect Nationhood Rights
● Secure Affordable Access to Essential Medicines and Services
● Respect Human Rights
● Provide a Safety Net for Vulnerable Workers
The 2013 AFL-CIO convention passed Resolution 12: America and the World Need a New Approach to Trade and Globalization, calling for a “people-centered trade policy” that will:
● Create shared gains for the workers whose labor creates society’s wealth.
● Strengthen protections for the environment. Companies must not use trade rules to pit one country’s environmental rules against another, as they seek the lowest-cost place to produce.
● Protect the freedom to regulate in the public interest.
● Set rules for fair competition. Workers of a nation must not be unduly disadvantaged by unfair economic competition resulting from choices about how to organize their economies.
● Include strong rules of origin so that trade agreements are not merely a conduit to ease the global corporation’s race to the bottom.
● Not provide extraordinary privileges to foreign investors.
● Effectively address currency manipulation.
● Retain the ability for all nations to stimulate their economies through domestic infrastructure and spending programs.
● Protect the right of governments to choose the scope and level of public services to provide.
● Protect intellectual property (IP) in a fair and balanced manner.
● Protect the unique U.S. transportation regulatory and legal structure.
● Protect the right of governments to secure the integrity and stability of their financial systems.
● Be negotiated in an open, democratic and accountable manner.
● Be flexible and responsive.
Politicians and campaign consultants, listen up. There is a lesson to learn from Michigan’s Democratic primary upset: Voters are tired of having their intelligence insulted by cynical politicians using 90’s-style “gotcha’ politics.”
“Gotcha politics” is a tactic where a politician attempts to lure or entrap an opponent by use of a supposed fact, gaffe, mistake or statement that makes it appear the opponent is a hypocrite or untrustworthy. Then the politician “pounces,” hence the term “gotcha.”
Just two days before the Michigan primary, Hillary Clinton tried to use this cynical tactic on Bernie Sanders. During the Flint debate she said, “I’ll tell you something else that Senator Sanders was against. He was against the auto bailout.”
Tuesday’s post, “Auto Bailout Controversy: ‘Gotcha’ Politics vs. Building Trust” wondered if the long-term costs of cynical politics outweighs potential short-term gains:
This kind of “90’s-style” politics is a “scorched earth” tactic, leaving little goodwill in its wake. In the short term it might gain votes, even win a primary, but those votes bring with them longer-term costs.
Over time, as the fact-checking of Clinton’s “gotcha” accusation unfolds, Clinton risks increasing voters’ perception that she has a “trust” problem. Winning a primary with a tactic that risks increasing voter perception that she can’t be trusted could cost her.
… The stakes are very high in this election, and if Clinton is the nominee she is going to need goodwill – and all the votes she can get. Isn’t there a higher road with lower risks that Clinton can follow in this campaign?
Gotcha Politics Backfired On Clinton
It seems there are short-term costs to this kind of negative politics now as well. Clinton’s attempt to mislead voters not only didn’t work, it looks like it may have backfired and cost her votes in the primary itself. The voters Clinton was attempting to win over – auto workers – knew darn well that Bernie Sanders was on the side of auto workers and had been for a very long time. Michigan voters appear to have resented the attempt to mislead them.
A quick trip around Google shows that Sanders has been there for the auto workers for years, decades even, and auto workers knew that:
In August 2015 at the United Auto Workers Community Action Conference, “Bernie Sanders addressed the annual conference about the importance of workers’ rights and the important issues that, as he said, many of his colleagues do not address.”
Sanders’ relationship with the UAW goes back much further than that. Here are his ratings at Vote Smart: Bernard ‘Bernie’ Sanders’s Ratings and Endorsements on Issue: Labor Unions:
1996 United Auto Workers – Positions on Workplace Rights 100%
1997 United Auto Workers – Positions 100%
1998 United Auto Workers – Positions 92%
1999 United Auto Workers – Positions 100%
2000 United Auto Workers – Positions 100%
2001 United Auto Workers – Positions 92%
2002 United Auto Workers – Positions 100%
2003 United Auto Workers – Positions on Workplace Rights 93%
2004 United Auto Workers – Positions 93%
2005 United Auto Workers – Positions 93%
2006 United Auto Workers – Positions 100%
2007 United Auto Workers – Positions 100%
2009 United Auto Workers – Positions 100%
There is also anecdotal evidence that the tactic backfired. For example, Noam Scheiber, a New York Times labor reporter with a finger on the pulse of the UAW, tweeted “Have heard from plugged-in labor source that UAW worked v. hard for Bernie in MI. Thought Hillary totally misrep’d his auto bailout vote.” He also tweeted, “UAW liked Bernie on trade to begin with, then was backlash to Hillary portraying him as anti auto-bailout. Got UAW folks very revved up.”
Robert Borosage, writing in “March Madness: Sanders Takes Michigan in Huge Upset“:
Clinton may well have paid a price for her cynical attack on Sanders in the Sunday Michigan debate, when she distorted his vote on the auto bailout. (Sanders supported the bailout, but voted against Bush’s bank bailout even when some of the auto money was folded into it). The Clinton low blow angered UAW leaders and activists, and was challenged by a Sanders ad and in the press and social media. It reminded many of the cynical tactics that sour people on politics, and may well have reminded many of Clinton’s unconvincing campaign conversion from supporting corporate deals to opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was negotiated while she was Secretary of State. The punditry praised Clinton’s ploy. But at a time when voters are disgusted by political games and posturing, it added to their doubts about Clinton – and of course infuriated Sanders’ supporters.
D.C. Insiders Getting The Lesson
It appears that the Washington insider crowd might be learning the lesson. For example, Politico, in 5 takeaways from Bernie’s Michigan miracle, writes:
Brooklyn’s [Clinton campaign HQ] silver bullet counter-argument was to roll out a half-true, politician’s attack on the ’09 auto bailout (Sanders voted against it because it contained provisions bailing out the automakers’ insolvent, Wall Street-controlled finance arms). In any event voters didn’t buy that the wife of President NAFTA had more credibility on free trade than a guy who walks, talks and barks like a UAW organizer.
The Larger Lesson
Bernie Sanders’ campaign may be the antidote to the old-style, negative politics that became so common in past elections. Old-style, negative politics attacked the politician, because the politicians’ campaigns were void of actual ideas and solid proposals. But Sanders is running a campaign of ideas and solid proposals, not personality. His “We Not Us” campaign is not about him becoming president, and he says so. It is about his ideas and proposals being enacted. Opponents can try to attack Sanders’ character, but that does not diminish the power of the ideas and proposals he campaigns for.
The larger lesson to learn is that voters are ready for actual ideas and proposals that address the needs of the country. Voters are tired of the old, negative politics based on distortions and want ideas and proposals discussed on their merits.
In Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate, just two days before Michigan’s primary takes place, Hillary Clinton dropped a ‘gotcha’ bomb on Bernie Sanders, saying Sanders “was against the auto bailout.” (Clinton is also running ads on Michigan radio making the same accusation.) From the transcript of the debate:
CLINTON: Well — well, I’ll tell you something else that Senator Sanders was against. He was against the auto bailout. In January of 2009, President-Elect Obama asked everybody in the Congress to vote for the bailout.
The money was there, and had to be released in order to save the American auto industry and four million jobs, and to begin the restructuring. We had the best year that the auto industry has had in a long time. I voted to save the auto industry.
He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry. I think that is a pretty big difference.
Sanders’ reply was cut off:
SANDERS: Well, I — If you are talking about the Wall Street bailout, where some of your friends destroyed this economy…
CLINTON: You know…
SANDERS: … through — excuse me, I’m talking.
Sanders recovered from the interruption and tried again:
Your story is for — voting for every disastrous trade agreement, and voting for corporate America. Did I vote against the Wall Street bailout?
When billionaires on Wall Street destroyed this economy, they went to Congress and they said, “please, we’ll be good boys, bail us out.” You know what I said? I said, “let the billionaires themselves bail out Wall Street.” It shouldn’t be the middle class of this country.
CLINTON: OK, so…
There was another interruption as Sanders tried to respond, then:
SANDERS: Wait a minute. Wait. Could I finish? You’ll have your turn, all right?
But ultimately, if you look at our records, I stood up to corporate America time and time again. I went to Mexico. I saw the lives of people who were working in American factories and making $0.25 an hour.
I understood that these trade agreements were going to destroy the middle class of this country. I led the fight against us (sic). That is one of the major differences that we have.
Clinton dropped a ‘gotcha’ bomb, saying two days before the Michigan primary that Sanders is against auto companies and workers, and then as Sanders tried to respond he was strategically interrupted, preventing him from effectively correcting the record.
So What Are The Facts?
In December of 2008 there was a bill to specifically help the auto industry. H.R. 7321 (110th): Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act was a $14 billion plan that passed the House but was filibustered by Senate Republicans.
Sanders supported that bill and voted to break the filibuster. From Vermont Public Radio:
Senator Bernie Sanders voted against the $700 billion bail out of the financial services industry but he says this package is different:
(Sanders) “The problem is if you don’t act in the midst of a growing recession what does it mean to create a situation where millions of more people become unemployed and that could spread and I have serious concerns about that I think it would be a terrible idea to add millions more to the unemployment rolls.”
Then, in January 2009 the auto rescue funds were folded into part of the huge, $700 billion “Wall Street bailout” bill. The Washington Post writes in, “The Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders clash over the auto bailout, explained“:
Clinton and Sanders were both in the Senate at the time, and contrary to what Clinton implied Sunday, both supported the idea of an auto bailout.
… Sanders argued that letting the auto industry go under was too big of a risk for middle-class workers — it could lower wages across all sectors of the economy and have a ripple effect on states like Vermont that were fairly far removed from the auto industry.
… But Sanders was vehemently against the larger $700 billion bailout to prop up the banks. (As evidenced by his presidential campaign, Sanders is no fan of Wall Street.) So he voted against the bank bailout.
The bank bailout was so big it had to be doled out in portions. In January 2009, Senate Republicans tried to block the Treasury Department from releasing the second half of the money, some of which was designated for the auto industry. Sanders, based on his opposition to the Wall Street bailout, voted against releasing that money as well.
At the time of this January Wall Street bailout vote the public had been learning about Wall Street’s huge bonuses even as bailouts were required. Headlines were informing the public that “Banks That Got $188 Billion in Bailout Money This Year Paid Out $1.6 Billion to Top Execs Last Year” and “75% Of Latest Bank Of America Bailout Used To Pay Merrill Lynch Bonuses.”
This second Wall Street bailout vote, which contained auto bailout money, occurred in the context of a public upset (to say the least) about huge bonuses for the banksters who had crashed the economy, and Sanders opposed it. The Detroit Free Press, in “Explaining Hillary Clinton’s, Bernie Sanders’ votes on the auto bailout,” explains this complicated second vote further:
The $82 billion that helped finance the bankruptcy of General Motors, Chrysler, their finance subsidiaries — GMAC and Chrysler Financial — and a handful of large suppliers were part of a much larger Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that covered more than $700 billion that went to bail out the largest banks, and AIG, the insurance giant that has issued credit default swaps that came due when the banks could not cover their losses on mortgage-backed securities.
In short, a Senator or congressman could not vote to rescue GM and Chrysler without voting to provide the money to keep the nation’s largest investment banks from failing.
Sen. Clinton voted yes. Sen. Sanders voted no.
Politico summarized: “Sanders was supportive of the bill that would have bailed out the auto companies. So while Sanders might not have voted for the bill that ultimately provided funds to the auto industry, he did support bailing out the automakers.”
But two days before the Michigan primary Clinton turned Sanders’ opposition to the Wall Street bailout into a Sanders vote “against the auto bailout.”
Some in the media mistakenly reported that Sanders replied talking about Wall Street instead of responding about the auto bailout, thinking these were separate bills. For example, Richard Wolffe at The Guardian, “Sanders, standing in Flint, had no answer for the vote – other than to retreat into his corner opposing Wall Street’s bailout.”
Initially the Sanders campaign tweeted, “From the @WashingtonPost: “Sanders is actually on the record as supporting the auto bailout. He even voted for it.”https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/03/07/the-hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders-debate-over-the-auto-bailout-explained/”
Later the campaign issued a statement, “Clinton’s Claims on Auto Industry ‘Not True’”
One day before Michigan Democrats go to the polls, Bernie Sanders on Monday campaigned for president in Michigan and set the record straight on Hillary Clinton’s dishonest distortion of his record on an automobile industry rescue package.
… used a Sunday night debate in Flint, Michigan, to disingenuously mischaracterize Sanders record on the auto industry. In fact, Sanders voted for the carmaker bailout.
… “It is absolutely untrue to say I voted against helping the automobile industry and workers,” Sanders told the Grand Rapids, Michigan, television station.
… Sanders said, Clinton “went out of her way to mischaracterize” his record of support for auto workers. “There was one vote in the United States Senate to support the automobile industry and, of course, I voted for it. To say otherwise is simply not telling the truth,” he said.
… To read more on Sanders’ record of supporting the auto bailout, click here.
Clinton’s last-minute, misleading accusation is a tactic known as “Gotcha politics.” This is a tactic where a politician attempts to lure or entrap an opponent by use of a supposed fact, gaffe, mistake or statement that makes it appear the opponent is a hypocrite or untrustworthy. Then the politician “pounces,” hence the term “gotcha.” It is often used just before an election so the opponent has little time to respond with the correct facts. The tactic depends on voters not receiving accurate information in time.
The debate was Sunday. Tuesday is the Michigan primary. This leaves little time for Sanders to explain the reality of Clinton’s “Sanders is against autos and auto workers” implication. This likely means it will cause votes that might have gone to Sanders in the primary to instead go to Clinton, or to just stay home. As the Washington Post explanation puts it, “[I]t seems like she’s willing to take the gamble that fact checkers may call her out for her tactic Sunday — but that voters won’t.”
Is There A Cost?
This kind of “90’s-style” politics is a “scorched earth” tactic, leaving little goodwill in its wake. In the short term it might gain votes, even win a primary, but those votes bring with them longer-term costs.
Over time, as the fact-checking of Clinton’s “gotcha” accusation unfolds, Clinton risks increasing voters’ perception that she has a “trust” problem. Winning a primary with a tactic that risks increasing voter perception that she can’t be trusted could cost her.
Worse, many voters are tired of this “old-style” politics of misleading voters in order to gain votes at any cost. They prefer to hear accurate information and real policy discussion that addresses the country’s real problems. This is part of the reason Sanders’ campaign is drawing such enthusiasm. Gaining votes by accusing Sanders of something being “against” auto companies and workers could cause many Sanders voters to decide not to support Clinton if she becomes the party’s nominee for president.
‘Gotcha’ politics doesn’t just harm the candidate using it in the longer term, it also breeds public cynicism about the political system in general. Clinton supporter Lanny Davis wrote a 2006 book, “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America.” The book’s Amazon description explains, “Davis tells us how this poisonous atmosphere is damaging not just politics but American society as a whole.”
The stakes are very high in this election, and if Clinton is the nominee she is going to need goodwill – and all the votes she can get. Isn’t there a higher road with lower risks that Clinton can follow in this campaign?
Many people don’t “get” Donald Trump’s appeal, ascribing it to his racist, xenophobic talk. But there is another factor, a very strong one, and we had best pay attention.
Trump is tapping into an economic anxiety felt by many, many Americans. Our trade policies are at the root of this anxiety, and Trump knows it and says it, and people nod their heads.
Corporate conservatives have taken notice of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and has started accusing him of “buying votes” by “promising” “free stuff.” Is it true?
Here are some examples of what the corporate/billionaire-funded right is saying:
● American Thinker, “Surprise: Bernie Sanders’s free stuff will be very expensive for you!”
Avowed socialist, pretend independent, wannabe Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is promising lots of free stuff for Americans – and anyone else in the country, legally or not – if he is elected. Free health care! Free education from pre-pre-school through post-post-college. Free family leave.
They want “free” birth control, health care, college, “Cash for Clunkers,” free housing for the poor and paid time off for women who are having a child. They want welfare with no preconditions for anyone who wants it, a $15 minimum wage and they want to open our borders to anyone who wants to come here illegally, have a child and live off the American people for the next 18 years.
● Gateway Pundit, “4 of 5 Liberal Millennials Voted for Bernie – Want Free Stuff.”
● WorldNutDaily, Santa Sanders’ appeal: We all like free stuff.
The idea that things We the People “get” from government is just “free stuff” misunderstands the purpose of government. We the People established our government as a mechanism for all of us to decide to get together to do things that make our lives better.
In a democracy, if We the People decide it is a good idea to, for example, have public schools, does that qualify as “free stuff?” Or is it an investment in making our lives better? And, while we’re at it, an educated population makes the society better.
Aside from public schools, here are a few other bits of “free stuff” that We the People have decided we should have:
● Public roads and highways are “free stuff.” (Except where they have special “Lexus lanes” for those with more money.)
● Medicare for people over 65 is “free stuff.”
● Social Security is “free stuff.”
● Courts and our legal system are “free stuff.”
● Police and fire protection are “free stuff.”
● Sidewalks are “free stuff.”
● An unemployment check when we lose our jobs is “free stuff.”
● The Post Office is “free stuff.”
● Public parks are “free stuff.”
● ANYthing considered “public” qualifies as “free stuff” that We the People make available for all of us.
Each of those “free stuff” items serve a greater societal purpose. Schools and education improve our economy and society. Roads don’t just make our lives better by enabling us to get places, they enable our economy to function so our businesses can prosper.
Some of the “free stuff” that Sanders is proposing to add to this list includes:
● Free public colleges and universities. Just as public schools help all of us, a modern society demands a higher level of education. The crushing student debt so many face today also demonstrates the effect on the economy as people are unable to buy homes and support families. (This would be paid for with a “financial transaction tax” of only a fraction-of-a-percent on speculative investments.)
● Medicare-for-All enables everyone to get health care, but also saves individuals, businesses and our economy from the costs of a for-profit system. (This would be paid for with progressive income tax increases, mostly at upper levels. Elimination of premiums and co-pays would result in a savings of approximately $5,000 per family.)
● Investing in bringing our infrastructure up to par. We’ve been neglecting infrastructure needs and a massive investment is required. Sanders proposes a $1 trillion effort. (This would be funded largely by requiring corporations to pay taxes they already owe, but have deferred.) This will create millions of jobs, driving up wages across the economy. A modern infrastructure enables businesses to compete and prosper more efficiently.
● Paid family leave allows parents three paid months to care for newborn children. The benefits to people and society are obvious. (Workers would pay less than $2 a week into a fund to cover this.)
● A $15 minimum wage enables people working full-time to escape poverty, reduces reliance on public assistance programs, and boosts local economies as people have more income to spend.
Note that these proposals are “paid for” and not actually just “free.”
Conservatives accuse Sanders of “promising” these things to voters.
Is Sanders making “campaign promises,” as if to say, “If you vote for me I will give you these things?” No. Sanders tells voters that no president can do these things alone. He says that if enough people show up and vote, only then can we end the domination of big-moneyed interests, and begin to provide for each other again.
In Sanders’ words, “Change always takes place when millions of people fight back.”
Conservatives claim that Sanders is trying to “buy votes” when he tells people they can have “free stuff” like free college tuition. But in a democracy, what does this mean? Politicians don’t “give” things to the public; the public votes for representatives who are supposed to do what the public wants.
An Ecosystem Of Democratic Prosperity
We the People built an economic ecosystem by investing in infrastructure, education, research, courts, regulations, environmental protection, monetary stability – all the things necessary to provide fertile ground for businesses to prosper. Part of that ecosystem is that We the People reinvest part of the return from our investment back into the system to keep it going. Democracy also means that We the People mutually benefit from the gains that result from that ecosystem of democratic prosperity.
Our shared investment created American prosperity; the return from that investment should also be shared and expanded. (Another word for “shared” is “distributed.”)
Related: “When Government ‘Saves Money’ And Gets ‘Smaller,’ We All Lose“
Secretary Hillary Clinton has accepted millions in “speaking fees” and campaign contributions from interest groups – most notably Wall Street firms – that she will be in a position to help or hurt as president. She promises that the money will not influence her if she takes office, but voters are understandably skeptical.
Voters have been betrayed again and again by people who have become known as “corporate Democrats.” These politicians made promises to help regular working people, then turned on them after elections and enacted policies that boost the monied interests – especially Wall Street and giant corporations – at the expense of the rest of the country.
What can Clinton do to overcome the resulting voter skepticism? Are there concrete things she can do and commitments she can make now that can reassure voters that she will be able to represent the other 99 percent of us once in office? Are there ways she can show the public that she means what she says when she claims to be as “progressive” as her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders?