On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked about trade with reporters. She did her best to wave the flag for "free trade"; even going so far as to suggest that it was still too early to "bury" the likelihood of ever reaching an accord in the Doha Development Round, of World Trade Organization talks. "I'm not not optimistic," she vouchsafed.
But when she was asked why she thought recent polls showed that Republicans were turning against free trade, her first response was a platitude: "I think that you really do have to show people how beneficial free trade is, first and foremost, for the United States economy," and her second: "the President has demonstrated that he cares about what happens to displaced American workers," an insult to the intelligence of the assembled reporters.
But then she did say something interesting:
"I'm concerned that there is a sense in which somehow America feels fearful of -- it feels fearful of its ability to compete. And I think that's linked to a whole host of issues about change and how rapidly change is coming and how uncertain that makes people feel. And by the way, it's not just uncertainty here. It's uncertainty that one senses in a lot of countries around the world. And that then does create a kind of impulse to protect."
Seven years into the Bush administration's tenure, a period that, according to Rice, has witnessed generally strong economic growth and the creation of "8 million jobs," and yet, "America feels fearful." Rice's plan to address this: "to go out and talk about why the good outcomes that we've been achieving from an open trading system need to be furthered, need to be allowed to continue."
If citizens of the richest, most powerful country on earth feel fearful of their ability to compete, more "talk" isn't going to assuage the insecurity. Color us not not pessimistic on that score.