Lest I appear obsessed with how (simultaneously) wrong and out-of-touch mainstream pundits were about Iraq, let’s turn now to trade, where conventional conservative wisdom is, amazingly, even more dominant.
A demand for tougher trade policies was nearly as fundamental to the success of the 2006 Democratic electoral sweep as opposition to Bush’s catastrophic war. “There has been an evolution among almost all Democrats that these trade agreements simply need to be constructed in a different way–for fair trade, not for free trade,” a victorious Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio explained. In Virginia, James Webb promised, “We are going to work very hard on issues of economic fairness in a country that has become too divided by class…. We must re-examine our tax and trade policies.” And Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse beat Lincoln Chafee, despite the latter’s anti-Bush stance, by proclaiming, “It’s time to reject trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA that fail to protect American jobs.”
Now, how many mainstream pundits share the fair-trade view endorsed by so many millions of voting Americans and demonstrated in decades of polls conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs? Virtually none. “Free trade,” really just a nice name for a free investment policy that allows global corporations to move production and capital around the world with no thought to the human and environmental consequences and that offers countless exceptions when the powerful are threatened, is the religion of the American elite. The primary punditocracy outliers–Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs–oppose it from a right-wing nativist perspective. The columns by the Washington Post‘s invaluable Harold Meyerson–which reflect a progressive, pro-labor, pro-environment, fair-trade perspective–may make him the only mainstream pundit with mainstream values on the issue.
As with Iraq, the punditocracy not only embraces a theoretical model that bears little resemblance to reality but also insults the intelligence and integrity of anyone who dares disagree. One expects such tactics from ABC’s Cokie Roberts, Washington’s most reliable weather vane of conventional wisdom. Earlier this year she warned that if Democrats pursue fair-trade instead of free-trade policies, they will be “essentially on the wrong side of history with globalization.” Even among liberals, fealty to free trade is nearly as reflexive. During the 2004 election, New York Times “liberal” Nicholas Kristof went so far as to equate mistrust of corporate-friendly free-trade arguments with attempts to spread lies about John Kerry’s war record. Kristof opined, “Intellectual consistency requires a tough look first at one’s own shortcomings. So Republicans should be denouncing the smear against Kerry’s war record, and Democrats should be denouncing their candidate’s protectionist tone on trade.” Kristof did not seem to realize that he was equating deliberate lies and slander–of a war hero, no less–with an honest disagreement on a matter of policy.