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David Sirota
David Sirota
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Countering Race With Class


In our us-versus-them culture, every political campaign is a battle to define who exactly the "us" and "them" are. Republicans typically say it is natives versus immigrants, Christians versus non-Christians and heartland folks versus Hollywood elites. At their most effective, Democrats parry by defining the "us" as the majority of working people, and the "them" as the tiny group of plutocrats who control the country.

In recent years, Democrats have stopped making this case for fear of offending their big donors. But this is exactly the argument they must make if they hope to defeat John McCain.

With Barack Obama on the ticket and primary exit polls showing many considering race in their vote, the GOP's traditional black-versus-white attacks are sure to be just as overt as they were during the party's halcyon days employing "welfare queen" and Willie Horton imagery — only this time, they'll use Internet rumors to imply that Obama is a Manchurian candidate. McCain's first ad, in fact, trumpets the Arizona senator as an "American president" — not-so-subtly crafted to imply that the multiethnic Obama is un-American.

The way for Obama to counter this racial onslaught is through class-based politics — and what a golden opportunity McCain presents for that on the issue of trade.

Despite its five letters, NAFTA is American politics' most offensive four-letter word. The lobbyist-written pact symbolizes globalization policies that force Americans into a wage-slashing, environment-destroying, union-busting competition with foreign workers.

NAFTA-style trade policies are now so unpopular that a recent Wall Street Journal poll found 60 percent of Republicans oppose them. And yet, McCain continues to stage public events supporting NAFTA.

McCain's position is backed by an Establishment media that justifies "free" trade orthodoxy with the kind of fact-free platitudes that marked New York Times contributor Roger Lowenstein's trade write-up this week.

He told readers that in driving down prices for goods, free trade helps workers. Left unsaid is the fact that, in the NAFTA era, wages have not kept pace with inflation. So while prices may be driven down somewhat by forcing domestic workers into competition with foreign slave labor, wages are dropping faster than prices, meaning Americans are losing out in the deal.

Pointing out this data and promoting a new, fairer trade agenda is Obama's clearest way to the presidency.

Substantively, he can argue that America should return to fair trade and strategic protections — the kinds of policies that originally built our economy into a powerhouse. Politically, he can hammer McCain for championing a trade policy that has economically destroyed key swing states from Maine to Ohio — and polling suggests populist positions on trade may be precisely what swings general election voters. According to a Democracy Corps survey, Republicans who considered voting Democratic in 2006 were most put off by the GOP's support for job-killing trade agreements, meaning Obama could swing these if he champions a fair trade agenda.

That's a big if.

For every loud speech Obama has given about making sure trade pacts "are good not just for Wall Street, but also for Main Street," he has made a quiet move reassuring Wall Street that Main Street will be ignored. Last week, for example, he named Jason Furman as his top economic adviser. Furman has spent the last few years defending Wal-Mart and working closely with Bob Rubin, the Citigroup chairman who championed NAFTA as Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary.

In the battle to define us-versus-them, Obama hasn't yet made a convincing case that he stands with "us" on economic issues. But if he does and he counters the inevitable race baiting with a class-unifying message, he will win the White House and — more importantly — start the long process of rebuilding America.

David Sirota is a bestselling author whose newest book, "The Uprising," was just released in June of 2008. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at



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Senator John McCain will speak in Canada at the Economic Club of Canada at the invitation of Prime Minister Harper upon the suggestion of US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, to ensure Canadian elite business and government proponents of NAFTA that the agreement along with its subsequent NAFTA-Plus iteration the SPP, are sacrosanct. In the wake of the announcement of this extraordinary visit, commentary in Canada's national newspaper the Globe and Mail suggests that Presidential Candidate Barack Obama is backtracking on his campaign commitments to NAFTA. See following articles [1] from the Globe and Mail June 19th Obama backs off NAFTA attack ahead of McCain visit to Canada. See also [2] President Obama Won't Change NAFTA
Globe and Mail i.e June 19th
the same indication:
Obama backs off NAFTA attack ahead of McCain visit to Canada
June 19, 2008 at 6:31 PM EDT
American presidential hopeful Barack Obama appears to have moderated his opposition to NAFTA just ahead of Republican rival John McCain's extraordinary visit to Canada to praise the trade pact.
Mr. Obama, who said in March he would renegotiate the North American free-trade agreement if he's elected, said he might have gone too far.
“Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified,” the Democratic nominee told Fortune magazine in an interview.
“Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself,” he answered.
Mr.Obama said he believes in "opening up a dialogue" with trading partners Canada and Mexico "and figuring to how we can make this work for all people."
The admission was published shortly before Mr. McCain was expected to pour unvarnished praise on NAFTA, drawing a clear distinction between America's two combatants for the White House.
The debate over trade puts Canada in an unusual position: right in the middle of a campaign for the U.S. presidency.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed that he and Mr. Obama had a conversation recently, but would not provide details of the call beyond saying that Mr. Harper congratulated the Illinois senator after he became the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
Sandra Buckler said Mr. Harper made a similar call to McCain a few months ago.
North American free trade and Canada played a pivotal role in at least one battleground state – Ohio – during the U.S. primaries.
A Canadian government memo written after a meeting with an Obama adviser suggested the Democrat's biting opposition to the pact was rooted in politics that would not blossom into policy if Mr. Obama becomes president.
That memo was leaked to The Associated Press and many of Mr. Obama's own supporters believe it cost him the Ohio primary, which was won by Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Harper condemned the leak in the House of Commons as “completely unacceptable” and ordered an investigation into the matter.
An internal inquiry put the onus on the memo being too widely circulated among bureaucrats. The exact source of the leak remains a mystery.
A spokesman for Mr. McCain says the Republican is jumping off the U.S. presidential campaign trail and travelling to Canada to speak his mind on free trade and not to win votes.
Mr. McCain will meet with Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson and Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, in an effort to “demonstrate his view on the importance of the U.S.-Canadian relationship,” said Republican policy adviser Randy Scheunemann.
Mr. Scheunemann, director of foreign policy and national security for Mr. McCain's campaign, said this is “not a campaign trip” and jokes there are not many American votes to be had in Canada.
Mr. McCain will address the Economic Club of Canada in a sold-out luncheon speech.
“[The speech] will be about the whole breadth and depth of the relationship, economic and, of course, that includes free-trade, but as well as other issues such as environment and security and so on,” says Mr. Scheunemann.
The Harper government has been careful not to appear to have favourites in the American presidential race. Democratic strategists, such as party elder Bob Shrum, have accused the government of manoeuvring to help the Republicans by leaking the NAFTA memo.
Mr. McCain has touted the value of NAFTA since the start of his campaign, repeatedly saying the agreement is not up for negotiation if he becomes the U.S. leader.
The senator's visit to Ottawa has been met with criticism from those who say the trip puts Canada in the middle of the U.S. election, despite repeated comments from McCain's camp that this is not about the election.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae says that's a hard line to swallow considering the timing.
“A visit in the middle of an American election is a campaign trip and to suggest otherwise is being disingenuous.”
Mr. McCain's strict views on free trade have been one of the senator's central platform issues, but Mr. Rae says it looks like Canada is being used as a soapbox to further market Mr. McCain's message.
“It's a little unusual to be giving a partisan speech to a Canadian audience . . . . The speech is not intended for us it's intended for a prime-time American audience,” says Mr. Rae.
“It looks as if we are being used as a bit of a prop.”
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President Obama Won´t Change NAFTA
By: Dana Gabriel - 12 June, 2008
Commentary / Analysis, Globalization
Barack Obama has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination, with
only the formalities of the convention remaining. There is a good
chance that he will become the next president of the United States.
For all his talk of change, it appears that in areas of trade,
economics, foreign and monetary policy, things for the most part will
remain status quo. During the grueling nomination battle, both the
Obama and Clinton camps were highly critical of NAFTA and accused the
other of changing their position on the trade agreement. What is
really worrisome is that you don´t hear Obama, or McCain for that
matter, talking about preserving the constitution or protecting
American sovereignty. The reality is that NAFTA will remain intact,
and the push towards a North American Union and global governance
will continue. ...
In a recent article from, there are suggestions on what Obama should do as president. It included using the European Union as an example for economic and political integration. It talked about, "A functioning American Union that pools sovereignty." It went on to say that this would not be possible by tearing down NAFTA. Much of the economic integration has already been achieved through NAFTA, and the SPP is continuing this process, further laying the foundation for a North American Union.
It is doubtful that the Democrats and President Obama will follow through on promises to fix NAFTA. It is so badly flawed, and a trade agreement that puts the interests of the people ahead of those of multinational corporations is what is needed. With all his talk on NAFTA, Obama has been silent on the SPP and the North American Union agenda. If there are no intentions of abandoning NAFTA, then it appears as if Obama´s change will be more of what we´ve come to expect from our politicians. With the next phase of the presidential campaign underway, I hope that this is not the last we´ve seen of NAFTA as an election issue.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Janet M Eaton
Fri Jun 20, 2008 5:01 AM
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