Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama, Clinton (and McCain, sort of) on Trade, Part III

Just today, I came across candidate questionnaires from the Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition. The most bizarre point is that the Coalition reports that "Senator McCain indicated he does not return questionnaires."

A brief note about candidate questionnaires is in order here. Speaking from my experience with the Dean campaign, I can tell you that presidential campaigns are deluged with questionnaires sent by various groups trying to nail down the candidates' positions on their areas of concern. Typically, responses to the questionnaire are drafted by a junior staffer, reviewed by a senior advisor (like the policy director), and then sent to the candidate for approval.

The questionnaires sometimes deal with microscopic policy questions, but they serve a useful purpose in forcing the candidate to go on the record on specifics rather than speak in sweeping, vague generalities. They're free to skip questions that they don't want to answer. And they may sometimes deem filling out particular questionnaires sent in by the most obscure organizations to be not worth the time of their campaigns. But outright refusing to answer any questionnaire, as McCain has apparently done, is a statement of astounding contempt for the voters, reminiscent of Bogart in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre:

Us: "If you're the candidate, what are your positions on the issues?"
Straight Talk McCain: "Positions? We ain't got no positions. We don't need no positions! I don't have to show you any stinkin' positions!"
The responses to the Coalition reveal some new information about Obama, namely, that he opposes not only the South Korea trade agreement, but also the Colombia and Panama accords, as he says in this letter to the Coalition, which is the most complete statement of his position on trade that I've seen. In their responses to the questionnaires (Hillary's is here and Obama's is here) they give identical responses to the yes/no questions. Given these responses, their positions on trade are essentially indistinguishable, although Obama does appear to have given greater prominence to expanding assistance for displaced workers.

I've also been looking at the foreign investor rights provisions of recent trade agreements and will write about these in a future post.

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