If tonight’s third and final debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney follows pattern, it will not be the foreign policy debate that has been advertised. Rather, it will be a narrowly defined discussion of national security, with lots of the usual cheapshots, unsubstantiated charges and style-over-substance positioning.
The absence of Green Party nominee Jill Stein and Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, both of whom have met the reasonable threshold of gaining enough state ballot lines to be elected president, will reduce the likelihood of a serious discussion on fundamental issues.
But it should not take a third-party candidate to raise concerns about how failed international trade policies have led to the offshoring of millions of US jobs. The issue is ripe at the moment, as Romney’s old firm is preparing to shutter a high-tech auto sensor plant in Freeport, Illinois, in order to ship the plant’s equipment to China.
Obama could raise the issue; and those of us who have followed the broad fight for fair trade rather than free trade, and the narrow fight on behalf of the workers at Freeport’s Sensata plant, certainly hope he will.
Of course, the political and media elites who make it their business to keep debates from getting interesting, or meaningful, would object. They don’t like it when foreign policy discussion turn to trade issues, and they especially don’t like it when the focus turns to the way in which bad trade policies harm American workers and communities.
They even claim that critics of current trade policies are abandoning their internationalism and engaging in “China bashing.”
What the elite proponents of free trade don’t get is that the critics of our current trading relations with China are the real defenders of oppressed Chinese and Tibetan citizens. And of union organizers in Colombia and small farmers in Korea and exploited child laborers in Africa.
Trade policy is about economics. But it is also about human rights—and whether countries that claim to support freedom and fairness really do.
When the United States approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China in 2000—at the behest of Democrats in the Clinton White House and Republicans in the leadership of the Congress—the move dramatically reduced the ability of US officials to pressure China with regard to the maltreatment of its own citizens and the brutal suppression of Tibet.
According to Human Rights Watch: