If Barack Obama were a white Republican, they’d be carving his face into Mount Rushmore by now.
By practically any measure, whether those measures are themselves flawed or not, his presidency has been an outstanding success. Still, plenty of time left to cock it up.
It seems that Mr Obama is intent on squandering much of his popularity and even much of his legacy on trade agreements that, according to their opponents, stink to high heaven. It’s not just the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that is under fire; such is Europe’s dismal stock over here that it hardly gets a mention. No, it is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that is grabbing all of the headlines, for exactly the same reasons.
Political wrangling in Congress has been so fast paced this week that keeping up with events is pretty difficult. As of Friday morning, a deal had been struck between Senate Republicans and enough right-wing Democrats to allow the White House to “fast track” proceedings. Senate Democrats showed some spine for about 48 hours, probably a new record.
The biggest problem with the TPP is that the proposed agreement is less about tariffs than it is about breaking down what little remains of worker and consumer protection in the handful of countries willing to put their names on the line, including Chile, Australia and Vietnam. Those that aren’t invited to the table, like Cambodia and Ecuador, aren’t going to do much better.
The only winners are the corporations that appear to be getting their every wish granted, including new protection for intellectual property and alterations in judicial processes.
That corporations may be able to sue governments because consumer protection laws are lowering profits is horrific – something that is likely to bring out the worst in corporate America. It already has: the Marlboro cigarettes maker Philip Morris is already suing Australia and Uruguay for trying to cut smoking by including graphic photographs of cancer patients on cigarette packets.
The President chose Nike, of all companies, as a backdrop to help drum up support – a crass decision from someone who otherwise has shown himself to be one of the smarter men to occupy the White House. The shoe industry is perhaps the worst job exporter of them all – 98 per cent of sports shoes sold in the US are made abroad, and Nike has time and time again been accused of crossing ethical boundaries.
Anyone who says that deals such as this are going to usher in a new world of prosperity for everyone involved is bonkers. Yet there is no shortage of very clever people who will say just that.
In the last 30 or so years, the world has opened up to free trade like never before, creating new markets as political boundaries have melted away. And how are people doing? Well, they have more stuff to buy. Americans certainly aren’t much better off, at least on measures such as real wages and social mobility. It remains unclear how exactly another trade pact, further weakening labour at the expense of capital, is going to reverse that.
The real details of the TPP are yet to be published and, as we all know, that’s where the devil is. On that basis President Obama’s supporters should be willing to reserve final judgement and cut him some slack. But he has made a complete pig’s ear of this so far.
Independent News Service