The stories about the President and his aides escalating the fight with progressives over Fast Track and TPP are getting me worked up:
Democrats Prepare for Battle as Fast Track Nears the Senate Floor
Obama Compares Progressive Opposition to Trade Deal to ‘Death Panels’ as the Left Ramps Up Opposition
Obama: Liberal trade critics ‘don’t know what they’re talking about’
I have lived through this before and the repercussions weren’t pretty.
I shouldn’t be giving advice to the President since he is on the other side of this Fast Track/TPP fight, but I will anyway: Mr. President, you are badly hurting yourself by escalating this fight with the progressive community over trade. Short term on this issue, and for the long term as well, because after this fight is over you will need your base back on board. As a veteran of the Clinton White House during the NAFTA fight, and a veteran of the self-defeating pissing matches between the Obama White House and progressives in 2009-10, I can tell you, the approach you are taking makes no political sense.
Let me come back to that. First, let me start by taking the tone that I think friends should take with each other: Mr. President, I would like to pause for a moment to thank you for all the times you have stood up for the middle class over the course of your presidency. The economic stimulus bill, the ACA, the CFPB and other good things in Dodd-Frank, executive orders making pay and working conditions better for those who work for government contractors, fighting for a higher minimum wage and paid family leave, pushing for a more progressive tax policy, and many other measures you have worked for have done (or would have done if passed) much for America’s working families. I appreciate all of those actions, and I don’t think you are pushing for these trade deals because you want to undermine the middle class or give big multinational companies more power.
But I do believe those things — hurting the middle class and enhancing big business power- will be the end result, no matter how good your intentions are. I believe this for what I am convinced are good reasons: because the same economists and policy people who warned about the negative consequences of NAFTA and China and Korea and Columbia trade deals and were right, are opposing against TPP; because the promises made by every other president from both parties on every other trade deal of the last quarter century have not come true; because the language being negotiated has been shown to all those big corporate lobbyists but people like me, who are more skeptical, can’t look at it; because the Investor State Dispute Settlement language applies only to corporations who want to sue governments, not to unions or environmental groups; because the people doing your negotiating are from Wall Street, not the progressive community; and because the people and groups I trust the most on economic issues, the people who have fought for my values on just about every major economic issue, folks like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, the CPC, the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Moveon, are skeptical about this trade agreement. And let me just add one note here: those are some pretty smart folks. I mean, it’s fine to disagree with her, but suggesting that someone like Elizabeth Warren doesn’t know what she is talking about on an issue like this seems like a pretty far stretch.
Those seem like pretty solid reasons to me, Mr. President, so just as I don’t doubt your intentions or values, I prefer for you not to question mine. I didn’t take this position so that I could raise money from emails; I don’t think these reasons are crazy like Sarah Palin and the death panelists.
As a staffer in the Clinton White House during the NAFTA fight, and as a veteran of some of the fights the first 2 years of your presidency when Rahm was calling progressives retarded and Robert Gibbs was making fun of the “professional left”, I think insulting your progressive allies when you disagree with them is such a huge mistake. It focuses the media’s attention on the fight, rather than on the arguments you are trying to make; it makes all of us on the other side far more determined to fight back, so your opposition is more fired up and focused; it destroys the trust you are claiming you deserve from us; and it makes the reconciliation after the fight is over far harder.
I’m not going to defend every attack on you during this fight, Mr. President. Sometimes people get a little overwrought and assume the worst about you. But you ratcheting up the rhetoric makes no political sense.
The TPP is in my view bad politics and worse policy. I believe it hurts the Democratic party, enhances big business power, and will weaken workers’ bargaining power, so I will fight as hard as I know how to fight against it. But once it is over, I hope that progressives will be able to work with the administration on the good things they want to work on with us. Let’s just try not to blow up the bridge across the divide in the meantime.