Friday, April 4, 2008
Accordingly, I have adopted the new name, "Democratic Core." The name has lots of meanings. I consider myself a Democrat to the core. Expressing opinions on political issues, as I am doing in this blog, is at the core of democracy.
I also picked the name because of my interest in the writings of Thomas P.M. Barnett. My wife accuses me of having a "man crush" on Barnett. I don't think that's the case. I just find him to be a very interesting and original thinker and writer. While there are some major points on which I disagree very strongly with Barnett -- for example, he supported the Iraq War, and as readers of my old blog know, I opposed it to my "core" -- but on balance, I find that Barnett offers about the most insightful analysis of the current state of the world that one is likely to find. He is challenging and he cuts across traditional Left/Right ideological categories, a position in which I occasionally find myself. Anyone interested should take a look at Barnett's blog, www.thomaspmbarnett.com.
Anyway, the connection between the name of this blog and Barnett's writings has to do with the term "Core." Barnett uses the term "Core" to refer to the parts of the world that are connected to the global economy, or, what he calls "the functioning Core of globalization."
Thus, here I am - writing in the Core, a member of the Democratic Party, and a believer in democracy. I hope you enjoy what I have to say.
The first of these speeches drew by far the greatest attention. It was, quite rightly, widely applauded as an "historic" political event. The historic nature of the speech derives not only from the extraordinarily eloquent and insightful content of the speech, but also from the symbolism inherent in Senator Obama’s campaign, namely, the fact that he is the first person of African ancestry with a meaningful opportunity to be elected President of the United States.
Looking beyond the symbolism of his campaign and the eloquence of his speeches, however, I am frequently impressed by the analytical nature of Obama’s addresses. To a greater extent than any politician in recent memory, Obama uses careful analysis, including detailed understanding of historical reference points, in order to advance his arguments.
The juxtaposition of the three speeches that Obama delivered during recent weeks is, in my opinion, not an accident. In fact, the three speeches are interconnected in that they all relate to certain common and fundamental questions that are at the heart of the issues that are at stake in this year’s election. Those questions are:
(1) What is the nature of the relationship between the American government and the American people?
(2) What is the nature of America's relationship with the rest of the world?
(3) What is the nature of the ideology that will drive America’s actions during the Twenty-First Century?
Obama's speeches propound answers to these questions that will set America on a fundamentally new direction in the Twenty-First Century.
I. A More Perfect Union
Before we can begin to think seriously about America's role in the world, we first need to understand ourselves, and recognize both our divisions and our common goals. Appropriately, that is where Obama starts. Obama sums up his purposes in his own typically eloquent words:
"This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren."
A great man once said, "Why dost thou behold the mote in thy neighbor's eye, but consider not the beam in thine own eye?" That is the dilemma that Obama seeks to grapple with in his first speech. It is generally known as Obama's "race speech", although Obama himself entitled the speech, "A More Perfect Union." I will join in the chorus of praise that generally accompanied the speech: I believe that it is one of the greatest political speeches in American history. It is a great speech because it makes an attempt to look honestly at divisions within American society. The speech is an attempt to reconcile sincere, but mature, patriotism, with a direct account of the flaws in American society. America cannot very well claim to be in a position of leadership in addressing the problems faced by the people of the world in the Twenty-First Century era of globalization, if America cannot address its own internal divisions. In short, Obama is asking us to remove the beam from our own eye, so that we can better help our neighbors remove the motes from their eyes.
In order to begin to address the three fundamental questions that I have articulated at the outset, and even more basically, in order to understand why these questions are so fundamental, it is first necessary to step back and look at the nature of the world today. There is a basic dichotomy that defines the state of the world; that is, the division between the parts of the world that are connected to and participants in the globalized economy, and the parts that are not. This dichotomy was first articulated by the radical sociologist and theorist of globalization Immanuel Wallerstein, who coined the terms "Core" and "Periphery" to categorize the connected vs. the unconnected parts of the world. This analytical framework was cribbed by the neo-liberal military strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett in his book, The Pentagon’s New Map, which re-christened Wallerstein’s categories as the "Core" and the "Gap." Regardless of the nomenclature used, the key factor basic to any understanding of today's world is connectivity, namely, the division between those parts of the world that are connected to and participating in the global economy, and those that are not.
Wealth vs. poverty is not the only difference that exists between the parts of the world that are participating in the global economy as compared to those that are not. Communities that are participating in the global economy have the basic infrastructure that enables their members to be successful economic actors. Thus, the connected "Core" communities have attributes such as good educational systems, since uneducated workers cannot succeed in the global economy; good health care systems, since chronically ill workers cannot succeed in the global economy; and good legal systems and respect for the law, since business cannot flourish in a violent, corrupt, unjust, and lawless environment. To be sure, these attributes will inevitably contribute to the advancement of the economic fortunes of the community, but again, it is important to emphasize that it is these underlying characteristics or the lack thereof, and not the resulting wealth or poverty, that determine whether or not a community is a successful participant in the global economy.
Generally, analysts such as Wallerstein and Barnett have viewed this dichotomy in an international context, classifying particular nations as either "Core" or "Gap." However, the discrepancy is really more deep-seated, existing at the community level. Thus, it is the case that some portions of a particular country may be connected to the global economy, while other portions of the same country are not. This dichotomy exists most dramatically in the countries that have most recently become connected to the global economy, namely, China, India, Brazil, and Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe. Throughout these countries, we see that while much of the population, particularly in urban centers, is now participating in the global economy, much of the rest of the population, particularly in rural areas, remains unconnected. At the other extreme, we may think of nations with well-established capitalist economies, such as Western Europe and Japan, as consisting almost entirely of populations that are connected to and participating in the global economy. However, because of labor shortages, immigration is likely to be a major economic force in these countries in the next decade – it already is in Western Europe – and as a result, we are likely to see the growth of "Gap-like" communities within these countries.
The situation in the United States is quite different from that of other advanced capitalist economies, such as Western Europe and Japan. The United States is a country whose history has been shaped entirely by immigration, and accordingly, it is a country that has an extraordinarily high degree of diversity among its peoples, and its relationship to the global economy is therefore a very complex one. On the one hand, we tend to think of the United States as sitting at the pinnacle of the global economy, and in many respects, it is. Nevertheless, there are unquestionably pockets of the American population whose ability to participate in the global economy is restricted. An obvious example of this is the community of recent undocumented immigrants, primarily from Latin America, whose illegal status within the United States restricts their ability to become fully functioning participants in the American economy. Another example may well be the blue collar industrial workers living in the American "rust belt." Because the United States has lagged in pursuing policies that will maintain the competitiveness of certain American heavy industries, notably industries such as steel and automobiles, the "rust belt" community is also finding itself less and less connected to, and therefore less capable of participating in, the global economy.
The African-American community is the most glaring example of a segment of American society that lags behind the rest of the country in its ability to participate in the global economy. As Obama emphasized in his speech, the history of the African-American community accounts for its unique status in American society. Africans were brought to America under conditions of brutal enslavement, were treated as non-human property for centuries, and were denied basic human rights until less than fifty years ago. It is hardly surprising that racial bitterness and division exist in the United States. As a result of its persistent treatment as an inferior segment of American society, the African-American community has frequently endured the conditions that prevail in Barnett’s "Gap", namely, an inferior educational system, inadequate health care and other social services, and a legal system that is discriminatory and oppressive. These are precisely the conditions that impede the African-American community’s ability to enjoy the benefits of full participation in the American, and therefore the global, economy.
This, then, is the subtext of Obama’s justifiably celebrated speech on the subject of American race relations. The issue of racial division must be viewed in the broader context of the lack of connectivity of certain segments of American society. Historically, many politicians, aided and abetted by the media, have sought to perpetuate these various divisions of race, ethnicity, and class, in order to advance narrow short-term political interests. Obama candidly acknowledges that there are figures in both the white and black communities who are guilty of exploiting these divisions for their own ends. The consequence of this perpetuation of division is that this lack of connectivity persists within the United States itself – an extraordinary, and shameful, fact considering America’s status as the leader of the global economy.
Seizing upon the Constitution’s charge of forming a "more perfect union", Obama calls for the rejection of the politics of division:
"At this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time.' This time we want to toalk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic childrean and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st Century economy. Not this time."
Obama clearly defines the proper role of government as being the promotion of connectivity, and the creation of an infrastructure – education, health care, justice – that will lead to the empowerment of all groups in America to be able to participate in the global economy. Obama answers the first of my three questions quite clearly. The relationship between the American government and the American people must be based on the principle of unity, not division. The essential role of the government must be as unifier, an engine to promote connectivity among all groups in American society, so that all Americans can enjoy the benefits of full economic participation, and have the opportunity to develop their individual abilities to the fullest extent.
Understanding this fundamental point -- that America must first empower all of its own citizens as full-fledged participants in the global economy before it can presume to take on the mantle of world leadership -- leads directly to the linkage to Obama’s second speech, dealing with the war in Iraq and American foreign and military policy in general.
II. The Iraq War and America's Role In The World
What we call "foreign policy" is basically a formulation of my second question above, namely, defining America’s relationship with the rest of the world. During the Bush Administration, America has defined its relationship with the rest of the world primarily in terms of military domination. This view of America’s relationship to the rest of the world was famously articulated by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), an organization that arose in the late 1990's and was headed by future leaders of the Bush Administration such as Dick Cheney and many prominent "Neo-Conservatives", such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and William Kristol.
The PNAC worldview is based on the premise that in the aftermath of the Cold War, America is the sole superpower left in the world, and that if the U.S. acts quickly to consolidate its position through aggressive military action throughout the world, but particularly in resource-rich areas such as the Middle East, before "rising China" can become a rival superpower, America can establish a regime of long-term global domination unrivaled by any power since the time of Rome. The PNAC view holds that the U.S. is able to dominate the global economy by reason of its military prowess, and that America’s relationship with those parts of the world not connected to the global economy should therefore be based upon the liberal use of military force in order to eliminate any potential dangers to American hegemony emanating from the unconnected portions of the world, and to enable the U.S. to continue exploiting the natural resources of those countries.
The Bush Administration's adherence to the PNAC blueprint is uncannily faithful. The most blatant manifestation of the Bush Administration's implementation of the PNAC vision of America’s role in the world is the Iraq War, but it can be seen in all aspects of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, namely, in its emphasis on unilateralism and militarism, and its general disdain for diplomacy.
The nature of America’s relationship with the rest of the world derives primarily from the ideology that drives the actions of America’s leaders – my third question set forth at the outset. The dominant ideology held by America’s decision makers during the Bush years is basically the ideology described and explored in Walter Russell Mead’s brilliant 1999 essay, "The Jacksonian Tradition." This ideology is characterized by extreme jingoism, unquestioned faith in military force as the basis for solving problems, disdain for diplomacy, and a general suspicion of intellectualism. These characteristics describe the Bush Administration to a tee.
McCain embodies this same "Jacksonian" ideology. If anything, McCain seems even more enthusiastic about the militarization of American foreign policy than Bush has been, with his invocation of the Beach Boys’ song "Barbara Ann", rephrased as "Bomb Iran", and his cavalier acceptance of the prospect of a 100-year military occupation of Iraq by the United States. While McCain’s most recent foreign policy speech did promote limited ideas about the necessity of multilateralism, on the surface, a departure from the Bush Administration’s policies, but in actuality, McCain was merely calling for the world’s "democracies", i.e ., the nations of Western Europe, to play a larger role in supporting the United States in its military adventures in the Middle East, and presumably, elsewhere. McCain’s vision of America’s relationship to the rest of the world continues to rest very much on an "Us versus Them" paradigm, in which "We" will continue to maintain a position of dominance through the aggressive exercise of military force.
This "Jacksonian" ideology also shapes the Bush Administration’s view of the domestic relationship between the American government and the American people. Thus, the Bush Administration’s policies have been characterized by a decrease in respect for the rule of law and the growing use of brute force, including suspension of habeas corpus, use of torture, warrantless electronic surveillance, etc. The right wing of the Republican Party favors policies of subjugation both in America's relationship with the rest of the world, and in dealing with the unconnected segments of the American population, as, for example, in aggressive efforts to employ criminal prosecutions against undocumented aliens. A good illustration of the fact that the Bush Administration’s domestic policies mirror its militarization of American foreign policy can be seen in the fact that the United States now has a higher percentage of its population in prison than any other nation in the world. The racial inequalities implicit in this statistic are staggering.
McCain has occasionally stepped back from some of the more extreme manifestations of the right-wing Republican domestic agenda, but he has ultimately gone along with those policies. Indeed, during this campaign, McCain has become pretty much an uncritical advocate for the policies of the Bush Administration, both foreign and domestic. This is shown by his recent retreat in his opposition to the use of torture and the backing off from some of his more liberal immigration policies in favor of the "border security" rhetoric favored by the Republican Right.
Obama's speech on the Iraq War directly links the domestic and foreign consequences of the Bush Administration's implementation of policies derived from right-wing Republican ideology:
"What we've seen these last few years is what happens when the rigid ideology and dysfunctional politics of Washington are projected abroad. An ideology that does not fit the shape of the times cannot shape events in foreign countries. A politics that is based on fear and division does not allow us to call on the world to hope, and keeps us from coming together as one people, as one nation, to write the next great chapter in the American story."
While both Democratic candidates reject the right-wing Republican domestic policy agenda, there are good reasons to believe that Clinton is a great deal more comfortable with the Republican policy of the militarization of foreign relations than Obama is. Clinton supported the Iraq War and has supported the Bush Administration’s policy of bellicosity towards Iran. While Clinton may have felt the need to adopt these warlike postures in order to counteract any public perception that a female President would be a "weak" leader, it is nevertheless significant that Clinton’s campaign rhetoric has consistently bristled with militaristic symbols. The infamous ads featuring the "3 A.M. telephone call" and the invocation of the "Commander In Chief test" are good examples of the Clinton campaign’s embrace of the bellicose "Jacksonian" ideology of Bush and McCain. Similarly, Clinton’s intense criticism of Obama’s statement that he would be willing to engage in negotiations with any world leader, including the leaders of Iran, further illustrates the Clinton campaign’s support for the continued militarization of foreign policy.
Obama's foreign policy statements, particularly as consolidated in his most recent foreign policy address on the Iraq War, suggest a fundamentally different direction in American foreign policy. As in Obama's speech on race, which, as suggested above, was really a speech about broader issues concerning the relationship between the American government and the American people, the central theme in Obama's approach to foreign policy is connectivity. The United States should be less concerned with the goal of extending its authority through the unilateral exercise of military power, and should instead focus on the establishment of more and stronger international connections that will make it possible for the United States to deal with problems of the Twenty-First Century that are truly global in scope.
Obama views international terrorism, the problem that the Republicans emphasize to the exclusion of virtually everything else, as one such problem requiring global solutions. However, Obama identifies many other problems that can be addressed only through international cooperation, including global climate change, genocide and consequent refugee problems, nuclear proliferation, and the threat of global pandemics. The solution to these problems lies in the strengthening of global connections, not only in the form of concerted multilateral military action, but also through new diplomatic initiatives, through a serious commitment to the eradication of extreme poverty throughout the world, through renewed global commitment to address climate change, through vast expansion of non-military international agencies such as USAID and the Peace Corps, and through a re-dedication to cooperation with international organizations such as NATO and the UN.
Opposition to the Iraq War is, of course, a unifying theme of Obama's foreign policy approach. However, it is incorrect to view Obama as any sort of pacifist or unthinking anti-militarist. Obama's recurring theme in this regard, going back to his celebrated 2002 speech setting forth the reasons for his opposition to the Iraq War, is that he is not opposed to all wars, but only "dumb wars." Plainly, Obama defines the Iraq War as such a "dumb war", but it is important to recognize the reasons why he does so. Obama's criticism of the Iraq War was that it was started without any strategic vision. Obama emphasizes that without any overrarching strategy in mind, it becomes impossible to talk about whether the war has been "won" or "lost", and the inevitable result is precisely what we have, namely, a war with no end in sight. Lacking any global strategy, the Iraq War becomes nothing more than a pointless, but extremely costly, exercise of brute military force:
"When you have no overarching strategy, there is no clear definition of success. Success comes to be defined as the ability to maintain a flawed policy indefinitely. Here is the truth: fighting a war without end will not force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. And fighting a war without end will not make the American people safer."
Thus, Obama rejects the notion that the United States either can or should seek to expand its global influence merely by reason of the fact that it is the world's strongest military power. Rather, Obama identifies the occasions requiring America's use of military force as being carefully calibrated to achieving the immediate objectives at hand. This means that the use of force should almost invariably be confined to multilateral operations and carried out with the explicit goal of promoting connectivity, not subjugation.
Obama sees the need for a new American global strategy suited to the demands of the Twenty-First Century as being rooted in both desirability and necessity. In fact, the open-ended military conflicts initiated by the Bush Administration, which McCain appears intent upon continuing, are untenable as a practical matter. The American military is today dangerously overextended as a result of the Iraq War. And, the economic costs of the war are enormous and ultimately unsustainable. This, then, leads directly into Obama's third recent speech, dealing with the state of the American economy, particularly as it relates to the costs of the Iraq War.
III. The Iraq War and Fiscal Irresponsibility
The direct cost of the Iraq War, approximately $1 trillion, is in itself staggering. However, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has recently calculated that the direct and indirect costs of the Iraq War are more in the neighborhood of $3 trillion. This includes costs such as long-term health care for injured veterans and the replacement costs for military equipment lost in the war.
Obama emphasizes the extent to which the costs of the Iraq War have diverted funds that could otherwise be used for purposes needed to shore up the American economy, such as for spending on infrastructure reconstruction, for poverty reduction, for universal health care, as well as for modernization of the American military itself. This diversion of resources, in turn, impedes the accomplishment of the goals articulated in Obama's first two speeches, namely, improvement of connectivity for disadvantaged groups within the United States itself in order to create a "more perfect union", and the promotion of connectivity throughout the world in order to promote the progress of economic globalization.
Obama also emphasizes an additional economic cost of the Iraq War, namely the damage inflicted upon the American economy by the manner in which the Bush Administration has chosen to finance the war. While carrying on this enormously costly war, the Bush Administration has not only failed to increase taxes in order to pay for the war, it has actually implemented huge tax reductions, almost entirely for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. This policy is unprecedented in American history; indeed, the economic policies of the Bush Administration represent a level of fiscal recklessness virtually unmatched by any country in modern history. Again, there is every reason to believe that these policies would continue to be followed in a McCain Administration. While McCain advocated "straight talk" on tax cuts in his past life, he has now become an ardent supporter of the Bush Administration's tax cuts, giving every indication that he would be content to allow this fiscal irresponsibility to continue into the future.
Obviously, Bush has had to pay for his war somehow, and since the Republicans have no interest in increasing tax revenues, they have instead financed their war through massive borrowings, primarily from foreign governments. In effect, Bush has set the United States on a course of arrogant, clumsy, and unilateral, but extremely expensive, military adventurism, and has insisted that the rest of the world pick up the tab his folly. No other country in the world could possibly get away with this sort of behavior. Imagine if some other country, say Argentina, sought to embark on a program of such deliberate fiscal irresponsibility -- an international body such as the IMF would promptly cut off credit to the country and insist that it get its financial house in order. However, because of the status of the United States as the dominant power in the world, a status derived in part by America's military prowess, it is impossible for international institutions to take meaningful action to put an end to America's fiscal recklessness. As such, the rest of the world has little choice but to underwrite Bush's irresponsible policies.
Some people have expressed concern that Bush's policies are causing the United States to be "in hock" to foreign governments, notably China. These concerns, however, have a xenophobic ring to them, and in my view, miss the point. An apt analogy for the fiscal policies of the Bush Administration would be to the actions of a schoolyard bully who seeks to support himself by extracting milk money from weaker classmates. In a sense, the bully could be viewed as being "in hock" to the nerds who fork over their milk money, but that is not really an accurate view of what is going on in such a situation.
It is also important to look at the consequences of the Bush Administration's irresponsible fiscal policies from the perspective of the lender nations, such as China. The Republicans' free-wheeling credit policies have now permeated the entire American economy, resulting in some noteworthy financial collapses. As a result, the American economy is well on the way into a recession, probably a very severe one. In a desperate attempt to mitigate such a recession and to "stimulate" the American economy, the Federal Reserve has continually reduced interest rates. This means, however, that a lender nation such as China is now being required to lend out substantial amounts of its national wealth to the United States, in the form of U.S. Government bonds, on terms that are increasingly unfavorable. This course of events can be extremely harmful to the Chinese economy. And while many Americans might be tempted to say that they do not care what happens to the economy of China, such an attitude is not tenable in today's global economy. American businesses have enormous investments in China; many American businesses, including America's largest corporation, Walmart, are highly dependent upon Chinese trade. The economic dangers to the United States posed by a possible economic crisis in China cannot be ignored by America's leaders.
Obama's economic speech, although I consider this in many ways to be the weakest of Obama's three speeches (see discussion below), nevertheless accurately pinpoints the root cause of these economic problems in the arrogant foreign policies of the Bush Administration, and the jingoistic delusion of American supremacy on which Bush's policies are based. It is the same mindset that has caused the Bush Administration to carry out a pointlessly destructive war in Iraq that has also caused it to wreak havoc in the global economy through policies of gross fiscal irresponsibility. If the leaders of the government of the United States, i.e., the Bush Administration, believe that America's status as the world's sole superpower entitles it to wage unilateral warfare, without even a colorable argument that such warfare is necessitated by America's security interests and without any strategic vision as to the reasons for doing so, then it is certainly no great leap for the same leaders of the United States government to assert that the American public should not have to pay for such warfare and that America is entitled to have the rest of the world extend it the credit to pay for these military misadventures; in other words, America's brute stength entitles it to act like the schoolyard bully shaking down the nerds for their milk money.
That is the strongest aspect of Obama's critique of the economic consequences of the Iraq War. Above all else, Obama emphasizes that American policies -- foreign, domestic, and economic -- must be driven by principles of responsibility. Amerca cannot embark on military adventures without a clear strategic purpose, wasting its own blood and treasure in the process, and expecting the rest of the world to make up the deficit. The consequences of the Bush Administration's irresponsibility have been devastating. Obama's candid recognition of these failures represents a major step forward towards a productive redirection of America's policies. Again, Obama's own summation says it best:
"We can choose the path of unending war and unilateral action, and sap our strength and standing. We can choose the path of disengagement, and cede our leadership. Or, we can meet fear and danger head-on with hope and strength; with common purpose as a united America; and with common cause with old allies and new partners."
While I hesitate to do so, I am constrained to end my discussion of Obama's speeches on a somewhat discordant note. As noted, I consider Obama's speech on economics to be the weakest of the three. In discussing the dire state of the American economy, Obama unfortunately lapses into occasional protectionist rhetoric in criticizing America's trade policies. In doing so, Obama panders to the resentments of workers who have been the primary victims of the failure of America's "rust belt" industries. These resentments are well represented in some of the powerful interest groups within the Democratic Party, particularly among labor unions and "populists" prone to blame economic globalization for all of America's ills.
Free trade, however, is not the villain in the piece. The causes of the decline of American industry lie elsewhere. Tax and regulatory policies have enabled industries, such as the American automobile industry, to continue producing inferior and outmoded products, unable to compete with far more efficient industries in countries such as Japan, Korea, and China. Indeed, many tax and regulatory policies affirmatively encourage industries to move out of the US. What is needed to revive American industries is not protectionism, but rather, a reevaluation of tax and regulatory policies in order to reward innovation and promote competition. Such an approach has achieved success in promoting efficient industries in many other countries, even in high-wage countries such as Germany. And, to the extent that there are structural factors that make certain American industries inherently less competitive, as in the case of labor-intensive industries in which low-wage countries have an unavoidable advantage, then what is required is re-training and policies designed to foster mobility for American workers, combined with careful maintenance of programs such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as the development of guaranteed universal health care, that will enable workers in such industries to survive the difficulties that may be unavoidable in periods of economic transition.
Genuine free trade is the great engine of economic connectivity, and it is absolutely critical that it not be impeded. I believe that the promotion of connectivity -- among Americans and between Americans and the rest of the world -- is the unifying theme running through each of Obama's speeches, and it is a theme that gives substance to his very positive vision of what America can accomplish in the Twenty-First Century, both for America's own citizens and for all of the people of the world. Obama's embrace of protectionist rhetoric is therefore jarringly inconsistent with the overall vision of connectivity that he presents. The political reality of today's Democratic Party, however, requires Democratic politicians to pay obeisance to the demonization of free trade. It is sobering to consider that a Democratic candidate for President may have a better chance of fostering an honest and mature discussion about America's racial divisions, than of engaging in a clear-headed debate about international trade.
During the Ohio primary, there was a minor flap resulting from reports that Austan Goolsbee, Obama's principal economic adviser, had told Canadian officials not to be concerned about Obama's anti-NAFTA speeches, that such speeches were mere political posturing. There was some question as to whether or not this meeting actually took place, or whether Goolsbee had actually made the statements that were attributed to him. Nevertheless, I tend to take some hope from the possibility that the reports were true.
Goolsbee's own writings about "free trade" agreements such as NAFTA are instructive. Goolsbee has indeed criticized such agreements, but not from a protectionist standpoint. Rather, Goolsbee has argued that agreements such as NAFTA contain so many loopholes for the protection of politically-connected special interests, that they actually do as much to hinder genuine free trade as to promote it. Joseph Stiglitz in his book Making Globalization Work presents a similar critique of the so-called "free trade" agreements that the Bush Administration has been forcing down the throats of America's economically disadvantaged trading partners. American farm subsidies, which US trade negotiators have almost invariably sought to protect in negotiating "free trade agreements", stand out as a particular culprit in this regard. Such subsidies, while providing rich rewards to American agribusiness, have devastating consequences for some of the poorest nations of the world. Viewed from this perspective, the version of "free trade" that the Bush Administration has promoted does more harm than good to the advancement of global connectivity.
We can only hope that in the general election, somewhat freed from the influences of pro-protectionist forces within the Democratic Party, Obama can advance a more nuanced argument about the failures of the Bush Administration's trade policies. Given Obama's rhetorical record so far, I have no doubt that he is up to the job.
IV. Sealing The Connections
"We are all connected." This would be the simplest way of summing up the message of Obama's interconnected trilogy of speeches. It is summed up both by the content of the inspirational speeches for which Obama is rightly praised, and it is summed up in Obama's very existence. Never have the personal and the political come together so powerfully as in Obama's campaign. It all comes together in the form of a beautiful vision for America - and for the world:
"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible. It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one."