'Preening Moralists' and CAFTA

GM is cutting 25,000 jobs, It's stock rises on the news. Ford announces new 'restructuring' plans to make itself more competitive, a 5% reduction in its U.S. salaried force. The balance of trade figures appall with each monthly release. Real manufacturing jobs emigrate with each passing year. China booms, oil prices skyrocket, the southern border is in turmoil. So what is the White House and Congress now focused on? —The passage of a new trade agreement.

To an interested observer of the passing 21st Century scene, an appealing characteristic of the Republican Party is its acceptance of differing points of view. Despite what the mainstream Press may want you to believe Republicans, not Democrats, are really the intellectual members of the Party of 'inclusion' in America. From Schwarzenegger to Rice to Buchanan, the inaccurately labeled 'Right' incorporates a wide array of views, values and ideas. Democrats have become so ideologically rigid that any person who deviates on a given issue, say Abortion, is cast into immediate oblivion, scorned as something politically 'unclean' and silenced. Thus Democrats have largely removed themselves from serious debate and consideration. They have forfeited their place in the arena of ideas. In virtually every case of policy discussion, they revert to pre—determined talking points, slogans and name—calling. They are both uninterested and uninteresting.

Therefore, by default, it is within the Republican Party and its intellectual support that the real national debate on policy issues must occur. And for this reason it is imperative that the debate be based on facts, compelling argument, and respectful consideration of sincere motives. 

As an example of what is necessary, readers of this space will recognize that in journals like The American Thinker can be found thoughtful articles by conservative thinkers of divergent viewpoints. Respectful examination of ideas is the goal. An example of what must be avoided occurs in a recent issue of a conservative iconic Authority.

National Review, which in large part provided the intellectual foundation of the Reagan Revolution, has taken (July 4 issue) a strong stance on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). They editorialize that CAFTA must be passed, not only to advance our national economic interests, but also 'to reaffirm our decades—long commitment to Central American democracy.' They argue that the region remains unstable and is ripe for anti—American backlash.

'CAFTA would liberalize trade between the United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, bringing greater wealth to all involved.'

This, of course, is a debatable point. The results of NAFTA should be carefully examined when considering the statement, but that is not the issue here.

They continue the editorial citing further reasons for passage. The likes of Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez, they argue, will lose influence.' The Central America middle class,' would be, 'strengthened.' 

Now whether the 'strengthening' of a foreign countries middle class may or may not be of compelling interest to the American taxpayer is arguable. NR is swimming in choppy waters. The rhetoric fails to match the substance. Obviously, they want this thing passed and in the concluding remarks give the game away.

'An alliance of powerful lobbies and preening moralists threatens to derail the pact.' (A remark worthy of Howard Dean)  Ignoring a large segment of thoughtful conservative demurrals, it goes on blaming

'the left's usual sentimentalists, who denounce trade agreements with any nation where labor and environmental standards differ from those found in Ann Arbor, Michigan.' 'Congress,' it thunders, 'should turn its back on protectionists.' 

'Sentimentalists' notwithstanding, free trade, as a preferred economic concept, has been a staple of conservative thought for a long time. free trade as a desired good has 'moral' underpinnings after all. Unfortunately, free trade as practiced over the last few decades has been neither 'free' nor 'trade', but merely international arrangements designed to inhibit some behaviours, encourage others, and enhance desirable geo—political goals — such as the restoration of Japan and Germany. 

Economies as different as China, India, Mexico, and the US share neither sympathetic political arrangements, nor moral, philosophical and cultural foundations. Free trade, to date, is an illusion.

If true free trade is indeed the object then a stronger case must be made. National Review, conservative think tanks, talk—radio commentators, and pundits must base their arguments on a new paradigm. They need to argue the cause with a renewed understanding that the underlying terms have changed. Capitalism has won. NAFTA passed ten years ago and the results are decidedly mixed. Citizens of this nation understand that they are not and do not wish to be purely economic animals, existing in a new—world order of flowing economic determinism. Benevolent feelings towards the people of Central America need not translate into a willingness to dismantle plants and communities in Ohio. It is not by evil design that many wish to block further experiments in trade at the expense of international good will.

Let us leave name—calling and sloganeering to the professionals. It is not wrong for the people of Ann Arbor to try to protect their local interests, to prefer the welfare of their families, to desire the to conservation of their local communities, economies and environment to that of Guatemala. 

National Review is in danger of becoming the overweening, we—know—better—than—the little—people, elite they for so long exposed. Moralists can come in all stripes, some, forgetting themselves, unwittingly exhibit a 'preening' hubris.

Andrew Sumereau is a frequent contributor.