Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What David Brooks didn't hear

David Brooks seems not to have heard the same Obama speech "on the economic stresses facing American workers" that I did.

In Brooks' telling, Obama in Pittsburgh on Monday delivered a demagogic protectionist "speech about nothing" that failed to describe how "pervasive forces are shaping the lives of voters and how government should respond." Brooks complains that there was "one clause" devoted to technological change (the #1 factor in manufacturing job loss, according to Brooks) and 45 sentences devoted to trade deals (a marginal factor).

Here's the 'one clause,' in its full frame, that for Brooks did not concede enough to the impersonal economic he holds entirely responsible for job loss:
The truth is, trade is here to stay. We live in a global economy. For America's future to be as bright as our past, we have to compete. We have to win.

Not every job that has left is coming back. And not every job lost is due to trade -automation has made plants more efficient so they can make the same amount of steel with few workers. These are the realities.

I also don't oppose all trade deals. I voted for two of them because they have the worker and environmental agreements I believe in. Some of you disagreed with me on this but I did what I thought was right.
And then this:
When it comes to trade, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. If countries are committed to reciprocity, if they are abiding by basic rules of the road, then we should welcome trade. Many poor countries need access to our markets and pose no threat to our workers.

But what all trade agreements I negotiate as President will have in common is that they'll all put American workers first. We won't ignore violence against union organizers in Colombia, or the non-tariff barriers that keep U.S. cars out of South Korea.
Brooks claims that Obama's emphasis on 'fair trade' provisions in free trade agreements will have a negligible effect on job loss. Perhaps. But fair trade is part of an integrated program that also includes support for workers seeking to unionize, investment in infrastructure and green technology (funded by cap-and-trade) to create millions of new jobs; universal healthcare that will increase job portability; and more aid to put college within reach of lower income students.

More broadly, Obama fully acknowledges the large economic forces that have squeezed the working and middle classes for decades. But unlike Brooks, he sees human agency aiding and accelerating rising income equality:
For decades, our economic policies have been written to pump up a corporate bottom line, rather than promote what's right, without any consideration for the burden we all bear when workers are abused or the environment is destroyed.

It's an outrage, but it's not an accident - because corporate lobbyists in Washington are writing our laws and putting their clients' interests ahead of what's fair for the American people. The men and women you represent haven't been getting a seat at the table when trade agreements are being negotiated, or tax policies are being written, or health care and pension laws are being designed because the special interests have bought every chair.
For Obama, economic issues always come down to metapolitics -- fixing a corrupt political process -- and to restoring "balance" after decades of rising income inequality and risk shift from the community to the individual (abetted by lobbyist-written legislation). Supporting the right to organize, enforcing fair trade provisions, enacting universal healthcare, creating jobs through productive infrastructure projects, shifting tax incentives to reward keeping jobs in the U.S., and making college affordable are all of a piece.

Brooks seems to have heard the speech he wanted to hear, not the one Obama delivered.

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