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Was Ross Perot Right?


"Ross Perot was fiercely against NAFTA. Knowing what we know now, was Ross Perot right?"

That's what CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Hillary Clinton at last week's Democratic presidential debate. It was a straightforward query about a Clinton administration trade policy that polls show the public now hates, and it was appropriately directed to a candidate who has previously praised NAFTA.

In response, Clinton stumbled. First she laughed at Perot, then she joked that "all I can remember from that is a bunch of charts," and then she claimed the whole NAFTA debate "is a vague memory." The behavior showed how politically tone deaf some Democratic leaders are.

To refresh Clinton's "vague memory," let's recall that Perot's anti-NAFTA presidential campaign in 1992 won 19 percent of the presidential vote — the highest total for any third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt. That included huge tallies in closely divided regions like the Rocky Mountain West, which Democrats say they need to win in the upcoming election.

A Democrat laughing at Perot on national television is a big mistake. Simply put, it risks alienating the roughly 20 million people who cast their votes for the Texas businessman.

But Clinton's flippant comments and feigned memory lapse about NAFTA were the bigger mistakes in that they insulted the millions of Americans (Perot voters or otherwise) harmed by the trade pact. These are people who have seen their jobs outsourced and paychecks slashed thanks to a trade policy forcing them into a wage-cutting war with oppressed foreign workers.

Why is Clinton desperate to avoid discussing NAFTA? Because she and other congressional Democrats are currently pushing a Peru Free Trade Agreement at the behest of their corporate campaign contributors — an agreement expanding the unpopular NAFTA model. When pressed, Clinton claims she is for a "timeout" from such trade deals — but, as her husband might say, it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is, since she simultaneously supports the NAFTA expansion.

Of course, this deviousness is precisely why it is worth asking about Perot's predictions: to make sure America has an informed and honest discussion about impending new trade policies before they are enacted.

And so without further ado, let's answer the question Clinton ducked: Was Ross Perot right?

In 1993, the Clinton White House and an army of corporate lobbyists were selling NAFTA as a way to aid Mexican and American workers.

Perot, on the other hand, was predicting that because the deal included no basic labor standards, it would preserve a huge "wage differential between the United States and Mexico" that would result in "the giant sucking sound" of American jobs heading south of the border. Corporations, he said, would "close the factories in the U.S. [and] move the factories to Mexico [to] take advantage of the cheap labor."

The historical record is clear. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports, "Real wages for most Mexicans today are lower than when NAFTA took effect." Post-NAFTA, companies looking to exploit those low wages relocated factories to Mexico. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the net effect of NAFTA was the elimination of 1 million American jobs.

Score one for Perot.

What about immigration? In 1993, the Clinton administration pitched NAFTA as "the best hope for reducing illegal immigration." Perot, by contrast, said that after NAFTA depressed Mexican wages, many Mexicans "out of economic necessity" would "consider illegally immigrating into the U.S."

"In short," he wrote, "NAFTA has the potential to increase illegal immigration, not decrease it."

Again, the historical record tells the story. As NAFTA helped drive millions of Mexicans into poverty, The New York Times reports that "Mexican migration to the United States has risen to 500,000 a year from less than 400,000 in the early 1990s, before NAFTA," with a huge chunk of that increase coming from illegal immigration.

Score another one for Perot.

Clinton may continue to laugh at Perot and plead amnesia when asked about trade policy. And sure, she and her fellow Democrats in Washington can expand NAFTA and ignore the public's desire for reform. But these politicians shouldn't be surprised if that one other Perot prediction comes true again — the one accurately predicting that Democrats would lose the next national election if they sold America out and passed NAFTA.

Foreshadowing that historic Democratic loss in 1994, he warned, "We'll remember in November."

Yes, indeed, Ross. America probably will.

David Sirota is the bestselling author of "Hostile Takeover" (Crown, 2006). He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan research organizations. His daily blog can be found at To find out more about David Sirota and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



12 Comments | Post Comment
Great Article on "Was Ross Perot Right? I would have much preferred Ross Perot in the oval office for the Bush terms.
Comment: #1
Posted by: JD Horne
Tue Nov 27, 2007 9:38 AM
Mr. Sirota, did we see such an economic downturn in 97/98 as a result of NAFTA, or did those policies only become fierce after Bush and his own corporate friendly, tax lax, deregulation mantra produce such a drastic outcome that we are seeing today. I agree, in theory and historical result, NAFTA is bad... but I can only wonder that Bush simply put a fire under it's ass and let it burn.
Comment: #2
Posted by: crystal dawn
Tue Nov 27, 2007 5:21 PM
Hillary must have a short memory on the history of their term in office if she does not remember Perot remarks. He was right and she and Bill was wrong on NAFTA. Voters are tired of these slick people running for the highest office and have these memory lapses.
Comment: #3
Posted by: bettywebb
Tue Nov 27, 2007 6:41 PM
If pigs could fly- the Clintons wouldn't need a plane.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Justin Plimlee
Tue Feb 26, 2008 10:16 AM
Thanks for reminding us of Perotf's position on NAFTA. Hillary may have forgotten but I was so riveted by his presentation I considered voting for the jug eared little Texan. The sucking sound statement made big news but I'll never forget the photo he showed of an American factory in Mexico surrounded by a slum and asked if these jobs are so good for Mexicans why do slums grow up around them. The screwing of working class & poor people at home and abroad is a bipartisan crime. Electing Barack won't change a thing unless he goes in with a mobilized and vocal constituency; and frankly a lot of us are too tired.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Sally Walker
Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:48 PM
Gov. Crist?
Comment: #6
Posted by: Shad DeSilva
Thu Apr 29, 2010 8:41 PM
More coverage on NAFTA's effects on the American Economy is needed to get it in front of
the Media and Washington to make necessary corrections.

Americans got nothing for this debacle except having the Tax Burden
to those still with Jobs - Raised.

Americans want Taxes on overseas sales from American Manufacturing there mandated
and those Revenues REPATRIATED back to The United States to assist in covering the

Either the Media steps up or we as a Nation continue a flat spin downward.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Tourville
Thu Jul 22, 2010 5:00 PM
Clinton was worse for working folks than any republican I can think of.He had the chance to put a stop to the culture of outsourcing for quick profit at a time when it could have been stopped.He took up the space for a real Democrat who might have accomplished.People wondered how he raised so much money.He sold out to the same corporations that bought the Republicans.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Colin Forsyth
Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:23 PM
For people that don't know what they are talking about let me try and educate you:
U.S. goods exports to Mexico in 2010 were $163.3 billion, up 26.7% ($34.4 billion) from 2009, and up 221% from 1994. The unemployment rate in 1994 which was the year when NAFTA went into effect was 6.1, on 2008 it was at 5.8, yes the unemployment is much higher now but that has nothing to do with NAFTA, the unemployment problem comes from within our country, don't forget we are still struggling to get out of the recession. As far as the illegal immigration goes, how can people complain that companies are outsourcing to get lower cost look at all the people that are getting paid very little, much less than the minimum US wage, society does the same thing it has nothing to do with NAFTA, NAFTA actually had a very little effect on the US economy. All you have to do is do some research and see it actually only affected the US GDP one forth of one percent.
Comment: #9
Posted by: carlos
Wed Aug 3, 2011 4:47 PM
Ross Perot knew exactly what he was talking about and our current state of joblessness, and stagnant incomes are proof of the damage NAFTA has done. My question is with Congress deeply divided, real unemployment around 20% or higher, average American income stagnant for the past 30 years at or around $40 to $50,000 a year, how can we reverse this enormous inequity? What's more alarming is our politicians are not even talking about this, their to busy fighting over what to cut, how much to cut, and who to cut. No one is addressing the obvious income disparities of workers in the US compared to workers oversea's, businesses are doing exceptionally well at the expense of American jobs and lower incomes, so what's the answer where do you begin to address and correct the obvious. I am not blaming business for doing what businesses do make a profit, and I am sure as long as they are making these huge profits I don't see them as the answer to my question, I see this as a major problem which must be resolved at a time when small fixes to enormous problems prevail. Any ideas that levels the playing field?
Comment: #10
Posted by: Jim
Thu Jan 5, 2012 8:12 AM
Ross run again please.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Matt "PappaSmurf" Honeycutt
Fri Jun 22, 2012 2:07 PM
Re: JD Horne Ditto !
Comment: #12
Posted by: Jane Male
Thu Jul 11, 2013 3:22 PM
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