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Obama Flip-Flops on NAFTA

By Michael van der Galien

OK, this is pathetic: Obama now says that his anti-NAFTA rhetoric during the campaign was a bit 'overheated.' He added that NAFTA has indeed been positive for the US in some ways, and that his earlier criticism - while trying to convince white blue collar voters in some states to vote for him - 'overheated and amplified.'

When asked whether his rhetoric was 'overheated and amplified' the new kind of politician answers: "Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself."

He also 'nuanced' his criticism, by implying that he does not 'want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA.' Instead he may 'open up a dialogue' with America's main North American trading partners, "and figuring to how we can make this work for all people."

Nevertheless, Obama's tone stands in marked contrast to his primary campaign's anti-NAFTA fusillades. The pact creating a North American free-trade zone was President Bill Clinton's signature accomplishment; but NAFTA is also the bugaboo of union leaders, grassroots activists and Midwesterners who blame free trade for the factory closings they see in their hometowns.

The Democratic candidates fought hard to win over those factions of their party, with Obama generally following Hillary Clinton's lead in setting a protectionist tone.

In February, as the campaign moved into the Rust Belt, both candidates vowed to invoke a six-month opt-out clause ("as a hammer," in Obama's words) to pressure Canada and Mexico to make concessions...

Now, however, Obama says he doesn't believe in unilaterally reopening NAFTA. On the afternoon that I sat down with him to discuss the economy, Obama said he had just spoken with Harper, who had called to congratulate him on winning the nomination.

"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," Obama said. "I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people."

That's of course the sensible approach, but it's interesting to see that Obama, once again, proves that he is willing to deceive people and to tell them what they want to hear, as long as they vote for him. Now that he's the nominee, and he needs independents to support him, he suddenly becomes much less radical on NAFTA. Amazing that.

Canada and Mexico, though, will most likely not care; after all, this is in their interest. Whether a person supports NAFTA, mostly, because he or she believes in it, or because he or she wants to get (re)elected, well, in either case both countries enjoy the benefits of free trade.

Michael is Editor-in-Chief of