Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The power of the protectionists

Michael Novak brings us more bad news on the free trade front:
Republican politicians are chilled by a story making the rounds in the state's political circles. A delegation of North Carolina factory owners recently went to Washington to plead for relief from foreign competition. They returned complaining that the president's agents responded with the ''free trade'' mantra. Their verdict: They could no longer support Bush. North Carolina may be changing from a certain ''red'' state (carried by Bush with 56 percent in 2000) to a potential battleground with hopes for capturing Edwards' Senate seat diminishing.
I wonder if the President would have been better off politically if he had consistently supported free trade. How much credit will this story get Bush among free-traders, considering his sporadic but highly publicized past acts of protectionism? No matter what Bush does now, both free traders and protectionist will be suspicious of him. I think Bush's use of the phrase "free and fair trade" in his last state of the union epitomized his stance on the issue: he's a free-trader, but he's very afraid of the protectionists in his party, and not above appeasing them. What really bothers me is the possibly that Bush is doing the smart thing - that free trade really has become a losing issue.

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