Trade Deal Important Show Of Political Process Working

There has been no end to the news stories about the 11 Pacific Rim nations and the ongoing free-trade agreement that is being pushed by President Obama and strongly opposed by many on Capital Hill.  The issue has created some strange political alliances.   Those alliances in support of the deal is a good thing in this time of political discord in Washington.

Many Republicans have long been supporters of free trade policy and so their desire to see this treaty passed is not new.   What is new, as many people have noted, is the willingness of Republicans to support something that President Obama wants concluded.   Something it should also be noted will be a part of the legacy of his time in the Oval Office.

There are some GOP members in the senate, who while partisan, also think that the nation moves best when it tries to make progress. While those members have often needed to fear retaliation come primary time over a wide range of other issues now find it less difficult to support Obama over trade since it is a cornerstone of so much GOP philosophy.   Being a lover of history I just add that while this working relationship seems shockingly out of place in red-meat-Tea-Party Washington this level of  working together was once the way government worked on a whole raft of issues.

And should work again.

But for every small step forward with the trade deal there are those who want to revert to the old way of conducting business.  We must come to an understanding that while it is very true many issues facing the nation are daunting the only way to triumph over them is if our elected officials are willing to make decisions that very well may be unpopular in the short-term, but ultimately prove most effective and beneficial to the whole country.   That is what needs to happen regarding the trade deal.  When it comes to playing to the most extreme right or left of one’s constituency in order to get elected we must also understand that means forsaking the larger needs of the nation.  If I sound preachy here, well it has been that type of a week for news that frustrated me.

We all know that for this treaty—any treaty–to succeed there needs to be a process which allows all the parties at the negotiating table the sense they can work without unlimited voices not only weighing in but also then creating blow-back which then makes any final product impossible to achieve.  Some very vocal Democrats have charged that the negotiations  are surrounded  by too much secrecy, and that something frightful is occurring that will make the final product most troublesome.  But the truth is of course that the process is key for both sides of this debate as it can be used for success or failure.   The players from each side can be sized up by their wishes over the way they talk about secrecy surrounding the talks.

At the end of the day I am not concerned about the matter of secrecy.  Consider any large policy move that was considered and worked on in private and ask if that idea could have been achieved with banner headlines every day rousing the populace.  Carter’s Camp David peace accord, or Nixon’s China initiative are two large international events that are similar to the treaty for scope and number of players involved.  We certainly have a right—even a duty–to express our thoughts but we also elect leaders to govern and make decisions.  The process is now playing out where the leaders are acting and congress will have the chance to vote up or down.

And on that final point I am most heartened about perhaps–even in some small way–the tone of Washington perhaps changing.  I like it when the two sides can come to some agreement and meet in the middle and thereby do the nation’s business.  And I do believe that trade is a common area where the nation can find a way forward. 

Over the decades I have evolved on a few issues but none more so than on free trade. The person who helped change my mind was Thomas Friedman. I read his columns each week, listened to his interviews, and then read his books. I want tough standards for workers and the environment and policing those who break the rules of the treaty. But I also think at the end of the day open trading and lowering barriers is a major plus for all.

I always ask others to consider in the call centers a decade ago in India that because of free trade young people were making a starting wage that was the same as what their parents made upon retirement.  That is exactly what needs to happen. Countless examples of this type allow for more markets to expand and governmental stability to be strong in nation after nation.   While I grant some have a point that there are those who will come up short due from such a pact it is also true that the majority of businesses benefit from a final deal as does the nation as a whole.

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