Debating NAFTA, with nuance

Even with Tim Russert nipping at their ankles, Obama and Clinton managed to talk some sense about trade

Published February 27, 2008 6:40PM (EST)

Funny thing about the Democratic debate last night. Even though Tim Russert was doing his damnedest to trip Obama and Clinton up with his gotcha interrogations, both candidates managed to deliver considerably more nuance on their various positions than has been conveyed by their mailers or stump speeches.

Take NAFTA, for example, a topic that has been of some interest this week.

Hillary Clinton acknowledged that trade deals have varying impacts.

I said that it worked in some parts of our country, and I've seen the results in Texas. I was in Laredo in the last couple of days. It's the largest inland port in America now. So clearly, some parts of our country have been benefited.

Barack Obama made clear that he is no wild-eyed protectionist.

What I said was that NAFTA and other trade deals can be beneficial to the United States because I believe every U.S. worker is as productive as any worker around the world, and we can compete with anybody. And we can't shy away from globalization. We can't draw a moat around us. But what I did say, in that same quote, if you look at it, was that the problem is we've been negotiating just looking at corporate profits and what's good for multinationals, and we haven't been looking at what's good for communities here in Ohio, in my home state of Illinois, and across the country.

If our next President recognizes that we can't draw a moat around the U.S. and that trade deals do have some benefits, while at the same time ensuring that new trade agreements aren't written to the specifications of corporate special interests such as the pharmaceutical industry or Archer-Daniels-Midland/Cargill, then Ohio and Texas might do OK.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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2008 Elections Bill Clinton Globalization How The World Works