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« Bigots In My Neighborhood. | WILLisms.com | Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 121 -- Globalization. »

A CAFTA Squeaker: Democrats Run Left.

After passing the Senate 54-45 late last month, the House of Representatives approved the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (.pdf) (DR-CAFTA) 217-215, in a vote that went right down to the wire.

In 1993, 102 Democrats (40% of the party) voted for NAFTA, while 43 Republicans (24% of the party) voted against it. Overall, it passed 234-200.

In 2005, 15 Democrats (7% of the party) voted for CAFTA, while 27 Republicans (12% of the party) voted against it.


The trend was similar in the Senate vote, with Democrats running from trade from 1993 to 2005, and Republicans more-or-less holding steady on the issue over that time frame.

The Associated Press puts its own spin on the squeaker 217-215 vote:

To capture a majority, supporters had to overcome what some have called free trade fatigue, a growing sentiment that free trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada have contributed to a loss of well-paying American jobs and the soaring trade deficit.

A growing sentiment, eh?

That's one way to put it, I guess.


The Democratic Leadership Council, which propelled Bill Clinton to office as a "New Democrat," once set itself apart from the Democratic Party of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis with support for free trade. Indeed, the DLC is still for free trade today.

But even House Democrats associated with the DLC have eschewed that whole "New Democrat" thing.

38 of the 43 DLC House Democrats (88%) voted against CAFTA, while 10 of the 18 DLC Senate Democrats (56%) voted against CAFTA.

What happened to make the DLC so irrelevant?

I have no earthly idea, do you?

Posted by Will Franklin · 28 July 2005 12:41 AM


I wouldn't rush to call this a left-right issue ("...Democrats Run Left". I've voted Republican since the first time I was old enough to vote (1994), and I certainly don't support free trade, outsourcing, offshoring or any of the other euphemisms. Nor do I believe most rank-and-file Republicans support free trade either (at least those folks I know). I believe it is the Republican leadership that supports free trade, and it is the editorial clout of the WSJ that provides much of the momentum.

Opposition to these pacts are about the only winning issue the Democrats have left. Sadly, they've chosen to appease terrorists and wage cultural warfare against our heritage, so they're out of the question for me as a possible protest vote.

Posted by: Leonidas at July 28, 2005 07:24 AM

Obviously then, Leonidas, you don't support economic growth, a healthy economy, increased opportunities for American workers and lower prices for American consumers. Being against "free trade" generally means serious ignorance of economic principles. Much of economics is not intuitive, and what you intuit to be good is only that which can be easily seen, not the very bad effects that are not immediately obvious. For a simplistic example, protecting American steel by tariffs and protectionism may "save", let's say, 1,000 jobs. But by doing so, you have kept the price of steel so high that the American refrigerator makers, car makers and washing machine makers have to pay so much for their raw material that their products aren't competitive and people don't buy their products. And you have therefore created greated losses than what you think you are saving. The object lesson of the value of free trade can be seen in automobile manufacturing (this was all before your time): Americans were making crappy cars in the early 80s and the Japanese weren't. There was a nice cocoon of protectionism around the US automobile industry which coddled it against those mean Japanese. Sadly, the American (and World) consumer preferred good cars to crappy cars, despite the price difference. It wasn't until American car manufacturers had to compete that their products improved. Competition has a funny way of doing that.

Try reading "What is seen, and what is not seen"--heck, read all of Bastiat and learn which economic fallacies you may have been subscribing to. If you won't do that, at least read Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson" to understand the most basic principles. Free markets mean free people.

Posted by: Kerry at July 28, 2005 08:10 AM

Kerry, I agree (never thought I'd say that, heh.)

Most people oppose free trade simply because of their unfortunate ignorance of economics. Free trade leads to an overall job growth, lower prices, and more economic prosperity. There is a unfortunate loss in one industry that is outcompeted, but this is made up with a rise in other idustries. Because of the basic principle of comparative advantage, this will ALWAYS happen, no matter what.

Posted by: Sasha Slutsker at July 28, 2005 08:39 AM


I'm all for American capitalism (which has been undeniably good to us), not world capitalism and its accompanying WTO overlordship. The average American is wiser than the theorists you list, and they know from empirical evidence that NAFTA hasn't accomplished anything anyone promised it would do. Illegal immigration has increased, our industrial base has been gutted, our intellectual property is brazenly pilfered in many foreign markets, and all those high-tech jobs never really materialized.

Free trade is a libertarian fad and there's nothing conservative about it. Ever heard of American Mercantilism, which kept our taxes low and our government small for almost 200 years?. If you want to push free trade as a strategy for cheap labor, that's fine. I'll buy it at that price.

You mention inefficiencies in the US economy such as the lousy automotive industry. This is the fault of powerful unions stifling cometition and innovation, not lack of international free trade. Break the unions and I assure you that our auto industry would have recovered on its own through healthy competition. Today, we've got the worst of both worlds, powerful unions pushing the Big 3 to brink of bankruptcy and foreign automakers establishing huge marketshare.

It's been fun, but I've got work to attend to (buggy-whip job writing software at a private concern).

See you on the free trade road to serfdom,

Posted by: Leonidas at July 28, 2005 09:03 AM

Here is another article on the benefits of free trade.

Almost 90% of economists favor free trade, while only 35% of the general population does. The issue is that the cost of free trade (localized job losses) are visible and specific, while the benefits of free trade (lower costs to the consumer, lower inflation, lower interest rates, higher economic growth, more jobs, better product selection and quality) are diffuse and hard to link to their underlying cause.

Here is a good article on the subject.


Posted by: Fred D at July 28, 2005 09:06 AM


Economic nationalism is a fine sentiment, as a sentiment; but before you go to much more down that road, you might read up on the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs and the role they played in instigating escalating global protectionism and the role that played in the Great Depression. In short, protectionism, like socialism (or other forms of government restraint of economic activity, whether it be taxes, fees or regulations), stifles competition, reduces economic opportunity and growth, drives up prices, increases shortages and ultimately impoverishes people.

Your citing “American Mercantilism” ignores two critical facts: the role and value trade has usually had for the U.S. (including using the U.S. Navy to develop and maintain open seas for trade development) and; the internal economic opportunities resulting from a rapidly growing nation filling out much of the continent it occupied. “American Mercantilism” depended upon a great deal more trade than the protectionist admit.

Or, to paraphrase Churchill, Free Trade is the worst form of economics, next to all others.

Posted by: Tim at July 28, 2005 09:38 AM

While the Dems do appear to be running left (or more accurately, becoming more protectionist), I suspect that a lot of this phenomenon has to do with the change in Presidency (probably some for the Reps as well).

Posted by: Jody at July 28, 2005 09:48 AM

Would anyone here want to comment on the Softwood Lumber dispute that has been dragging on for years between Canada and the US. The multi-BILLION dollar tarifs that were, and still are, put on Canadian lumber shipments to the US will go to US PRODUCERS to "compensate" them certainly doesn't sound like Free Trade to me. Especially since the WTO and every NAFTA review board has ruled in Canada's favour. Of course that is just my perspective. Comments?

Posted by: DJ at July 28, 2005 10:30 AM

The Dems like to oppose free trade because it is an issue they can easily demogogue. It's what they are best at.

Posted by: Pat at July 28, 2005 11:46 AM

DJ, I don't know anything about that lumber dispute but I very much want to hear more. If the US taxpayer/consumer is paying US companies to chop down trees rather than get trees from Canada, then yeah, that is not free trade at all (and means the US lumber companies are as rigid and panicked as the US steel companies, and should suffer the same fate).

Posted by: TreeLover at July 28, 2005 12:14 PM

I'd suggest putting down the Kool Aid and reading all 2400 pages of the agreement. Who needs a 10 lb. book for such a simple concept?

CAFTA: More Bureaucracy, Less Free Trade

CAFTA undermines immigration laws

CAFTA's Threats to U.S. Independence

Posted by: The Lonewacko Blog at July 28, 2005 12:32 PM

The only thing I fear about free trade, which currently is NOT a danger due to our protectionism, is what its effect would be on agriculture. Presently, we don't have free trade in ag, but, when it occurs american farmers will lose a lot of ground to cheaper foreign producers, even Africa, eventually.

Can't help but remember the Roman Empire's difficulties when the FOOD CHAIN from the colonies was disrupted by war, piracy. Becoming heavily dependent on others for food (as we are with oil, today) will create serious problems. There may be a good case for protectionism for agriculture.

Posted by: Thomas Hazlewood at July 28, 2005 12:49 PM


Just Google "Softwood+lumber+dispute" and you will get way more info than you can handle about this. I'm not even going to try to decide who is "right" but sitting up here north of the 49th listening to the US talk about the need for Free Trade is more than a bit galling. And remember, the duties collected by the US go to the American COMPANIES, not the government!

Posted by: DJ at July 28, 2005 01:27 PM

One man's output is another mans input.

If you restrict business from getting the lowest cost inputs you then make that business uncompetitive. And of course such restrictions cascade. Until pretty soon the whole economy is uncompetitive.

Such restrictions are a European (among others) disease. Unemployment runs 10% or more there and has been at that level for over ten years continuously. Boom or bust things don't get better.

Capitalism/free trade is very hard. Socialism is harder.

Posted by: M. Simon at July 28, 2005 01:39 PM

Opposing CAFTA is a winner for most Democrats. They get to denounce Bush without cost.

Few voters will care if you voted against CAFTA but some voters would defect if you voted for it.

The same logic applies to raising money - contributors know your vote meant nothing and changed nothing. They support you because there will be occasions when your vote will matter.

Posted by: Ken at July 28, 2005 02:17 PM

I linked to some of your trackbacks today... pretty cool places...some of them had some them were great stuff!... Thanks WILLisms.

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at July 30, 2005 10:14 AM