NAFTA SNAFU

Just before the March 4 Primary, Clinton was hammering Obama by seizing on an CTV (Canadian TV network) story that made Obama look like a bit of a phony. They called it NAFTA-Gate. The story claimed that an Obama staffer had called the Canadian embassy, telling them to ignore all campaign talk about NAFTA. Clinton made quick use of the story and Obama's denials that the call ever took place. On the eve of the Ohio primary, the perception that Obama was being a phony on an economic issue quite possibly resonated with voters who decided in the last few days (as a large number of Clinton voters said they did.)

Fact Check.org researched the story and found there was no evidence of such a phone call, and denials on both the Obama side and the Canadian side. Obama was flummoxed when confronted with the accusations, which I'm sure looked great to Ohio voters.

FactCheck did find that there was a memo circulating within the Canadian government, nearly a month earlier (Feb 8). The memo contained notes taken on a meeting between Canadians and Obama's financial advisor, Austan Goolsbee. Goolsbee has called the memo's notes on his comments: "a pretty ham-handed description of what I answered" and "completely crazy." The comments were, in essence, reassuring Canadian officials that Obama's stance was the same as they had previously discussed in private. Whoever took the notes included the phrase "political posturing."

So, why was there talk of a phone call taking place in late February after NAFTA had come up in the debate? MSNBC is reporting:

"[PM Harper's chief of staff] Mr. Brodie, apparently seeking to play down the potential impact on Canada, told the reporters the threat was not serious, and that someone from Ms. Clinton's campaign had even contacted Canadian diplomats to tell them not to worry because the NAFTA threats were mostly political posturing. The Canadian Press cited an unnamed source last night as saying that several people overheard the remark.

Both Clinton and Obama have denied contacting the government and telling them they are talking out of both sides of their mouths. I'm less than impressed with Clinton's campaign tactic of seizing on this story when she surely knows that the candidates have exactly the same stance on NAFTA (according to what I saw in the debates), and neither is about to get rid of it. Yet Clinton will continue to try to hammer Obama with this story, which is based on hearsay and includes accusations toward the Clinton campaign.

UPDATE: It may be of interest that Robert Reich says Hillary is being essentially honest when she claims she opposed NAFTA early on, except that his recollection was that she disagreed with the timing. She thought that NAFTA would cost Clinton dearly in political capital and interfere with attempts at universal health care. It appears that she was correct about that.


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2 comments:

Julie said...

Despite the frothing at the mouth that occurs every time NAFTA is mentioned, I've found that most people can't even tell you what the acronym stands for, never mind the three nations involved or the most elementary grasp of what it was supposed to accomplish (never mind how it turned out). My parents were convinced it had something to do with sending jobs to India.

The excitement over NAFTA this week reminded me of some years back when people were mumbling "Whitewater... Whitewater..." because they had heard about it and were told that it was bad, even though they didn't know what it was.

I definitely agree that you should be upset about something that's bad, but it helps if you know why it's bad. Or why someone else thinks you should agree that it's bad. You can't just take someone's word for it.

And then, to take a word or acronym that upsets people to begin with, and then yell it in a crowded theater for no good reason on the eve of... ugh, it's too late, I don't even want to go there.

Dr. Momentum said...

Paul Loeb writes:

These attacks unquestionably made a difference. They flipped voter perceptions on an issue where Obama should have had a key advantage. In 1994, union, environmental, and social justice activists were so angry at Clinton's staking all his political chips to pass NAFTA that many sat out that critical election, helping lead to Gingrich's win. Now Clinton ended up getting a majority the 55 percent of Ohio voters who expressed a sense "that trade takes jobs away," a majority of those worried about their family's economic situation, and a majority of union members, whom Obama won in his recent victories. She won a 10 percent plurality in a state where Ohioans overwhelmingly picked the economy as the top issue. And she won overwhelmingly with late-breaking voters, the opposite of practically all of Obama's other campaigns. Most important, by casting doubt on Obama's integrity, the cornerstone of his campaign, they made him seem like just another hack politician who'd say anything to win. This gave the supposed scandal a probable impact in Texas and Rhode Island as well, even though NAFTA was less of a central issue there.