Lydia DePillis tried to get to the bottom of a question, Why NAFTA Passed and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Failed. She noted that nothing had really changed in terms of the arguments for and against the two deals. The only real answer she comes up with is that there was a procedural difference: the fast-track authority was long done on NAFTA — before it was negotiated. So it was just a matter of voting for it or against it. I think it is simpler than that.
The 1992 election was widely misinterpreted by both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are to this day convinced that they lost because Bush raised taxes. The Democrats were for a time — and to some extent still — under the delusion that Clinton won because he turned right and had his “Sister Souljah moment.” So there was a feeling that conservative policy was the right way to go — or at least the wave of the future. That just isn’t true anymore. I think that even the Democratic Party establishment is waking up to the fact that the New Democratic movement was bad for the nation and ultimately bad for the party.
Here’s the question that people are starting to ask: why vote for the Democratic Party when its unofficial slogan is, “Not as bad as the Republicans!”? If the Republican Party hadn’t become so horrible, the Democratic Party would be doing major soul searching right now. And even as it is, a whole lot of Democrats are wondering what it matters to win elections when the playing field is so shifted to the right that even a conservative measure like Obamacare required herculean effort and passed only with Democratic votes. The American voter is pretty messed up, but almost no one is in favor of having two political parties as fully owned corporate subsidiaries.
I think most people are where I am regarding these matters, No Trade Deals Until Our Economy Is Fixed. Are trade agreements good for the economy? They appear to be. But they aren’t that good for the economy. They create modest growth. But this is nothing compared to the enormous disruption that they create. And the kicker is that people see no correlation because economic growth and job or wage growth. That’s because there is none. Over the last 40 years, we’ve seen the economy manipulated so that it exists for the benefit of the rich — and the rich alone. What do trade deals have to do with the lives of workers — other than making them even more insecure?
The only thing that is surprising is that our elected officials listened. But it makes sense. They too have been worn down by ever more trade deals. Trade deals are for centrist Democrats what tax cuts are for Republicans: things that are done because they will supposedly create jobs but never really do. A lot of people have wondered why Obama is so all fired up about the TPP. I think this is why. It isn’t rational. He just “knows” that this trade deal is good for the economy in the same way that George W Bush just knew his tax cuts were good for the economy.
The difference now is that Democrats are capable of learning. And they saw that this was not just — or even primarily — a trade deal. The thing is larded up with special deals for industries that are going to increase profits but not jobs. No one thinks that if Lionsgate can sell The Expendables for he next 70 years in Vietnam that more films will get made. At a time when the Democratic Party is finally waking up from its long neoliberal nightmare, yet another trade deal just doesn’t make sense. If NAFTA seemed like the future to the Democrats in 1993, TPP definitely is the past in 2015.