NAFTA Dance: Byron York summarizes the deceptions

posted at 9:40 am on March 4, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Sometimes watching an event unfold over several days can give analysts too much of a blow-by-blow perspective. Barack Obama’s NAFTA dance provides an excellent example of this. The spin from the campaign has sounded perfectly reasonable every step of the way — but when seeing the responses over the past week in total, it demonstrates the antithesis of the Obama message of “new politics” and honest dealing in a way that may resonate more than his Tony Rezko connections. Byron York connects the dots at National Review:

It began last week, when Canada’s CTV television network reported that, in early February, a representative of the Obama campaign assured Canadian officials that they need not take Obama’s NAFTA threats seriously, that those threats were just political rhetoric intended to win Midwestern primaries. The campaign, and the Canadian government, initially denied everything. “The Canadian ambassador issued a statement saying that the story was absolutely false,” top Obama adviser Susan Rice said Thursday night on MSNBC. “There had been no such contact. There had been no discussions on NAFTA.” Obama himself, asked about the story the next day, said, “It did not happen.”

But it turned out that there had been contact, and something did indeed happen. Later news reports identified the Obama adviser as Austan Goolsbee, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who serves as a senior adviser to the Obama campaign. Those reports said Goolsbee met with officials at the Canadian consulate in Chicago, where the NAFTA discussion allegedly took place. …

[A]s the weekend began, the campaign continued to deny everything. On Friday, The New York Observer reached Goolsbee himself. “It is a totally inaccurate story,” Goolsbee said. “I did not call these people.”

Then a report from the Associated Press pulled the rug out from under Obama. The report cited a memo written as a record of the February 8 meeting between Goolsbee and a man named Georges Rioux, the Canadian consul general in Chicago. The document was written by Joseph DeMora, a consulate staffer who was in the meeting.

The pattern of deception seems rather clear. At each step, the campaign denied what it thought could not be proven. At each step, they have been forced to backtrack and re-make the message. No, we never had contact became Well, we had contact but didn’t discuss NAFTA. That shortly became We discussed NAFTA but they misunderstood us, closely followed by Goolsbee wasn’t representing the campaign, he was representing the university.

Does anyone believe this at all? Why would Goolsbee represent the university at the Canadian consulate? What business did the University of Chicago have with the Canadian diplomatic corps — and if they did, why was Goolsbee discussing the Obama campaign during the entire visit?

Goolsbee had an obvious mission with the Canadians: to reassure them that Obama wouldn’t throw NAFTA on the ashheap. Team Obama thought they could keep this mission quiet while Obama tried stirring up populist passion in Ohio by telling people how much he disliked the trade treaty and how he would demand it be renegotiated.

Barack Obama and his team were telling some people what they wanted to hear, and some people the truth. The issue isn’t even which are which, but the fact that Obama’s NAFTA dance reveals his campaign, at least, as something considerably less than the principled statesmen they’re selling in this primary season. It also shows him to have a lot less courage than he assigns to himself, refusing either to stand up to the protectionists in his party or the Canadians and Mexicans.

Obama has made a campaign on the basis of character. Even apart from his continuing ties to people like Tony Rezko, William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn, the NAFTA Dance shows the character of his campaign as less than stellar.

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Take this along with McCain’s letter to Obama back when both were mere senators and McCain blasted him for dissembling, and the article from a Chicago reporter that says similar, and you’ve got the data points for a trendline…

Chap on March 4, 2008 at 9:45 AM

These are the kinds of stories I’d expect the Clinton campaign to pounce on. She needs to bust his bubble and prove what kind of politician Obama really is, and this is just the tool to do so – but she and her people are pulling rookie-level maneuvers like leaking lame photographs.

Paging Senator Clinton…

amkun on March 4, 2008 at 9:49 AM

OK, let me get this straight. The story seems to be that a politician lied. I don’t believe it, a politician lied. Why what will the world come to? I’m unable to express my shock adequately.

Snake307 on March 4, 2008 at 9:51 AM

BTW This kind of deception appears to be the Obama campaign m.o. If at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again. The public funds he pledged to accept, his connections with Rezko, this NAFTA scandal….

amkun on March 4, 2008 at 9:52 AM

He thinks people are stupid, like most Democrats. I hope he’s wrong.

Asher on March 4, 2008 at 9:54 AM

Does he mean to pull out of NAFTA or not?

What specifically are the conditions for such a move?

Inquiring minds want to know.

drjohn on March 4, 2008 at 9:56 AM

Obama has made a campaign on the basis of character. Even apart from his continuing ties to people like Tony Rezko, William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn, the NAFTA Dance shows the character of his campaign as less than stellar.

He has made the campaign about judgment too – that was his response to Hillary’s who do you want to answer the phone at 3 A.Mad.

Buy Danish on March 4, 2008 at 9:57 AM

Interestingly, nobody in the MSM has asked either Hillary or Obama the simple follow up question: “If Canada and or Mexico declines to renegotiate NAFTA, will you maintain the treaty obligations that the United States agreed to?”. This is the question that neither Russert or Williams could think of. A second question: If your answer to the above question is No, will you announce to Mexico and or Canada that the United States is no longer bound by NAFTA? Third question: Will Mexico and Canada be justified in abrogating treaty obligations with the US in other areas?
This is probably too sophisticated a Q&A for Russert and Williams and Hillary and Obama would dance away from truthful answers. Hillary now says she was against NAFTA within the administration. What a lie! Neither she nor Bill mentions Hillary’s alleged opposition to NAFTA in the Clintons’ autobiographies. Why didn’t Russert say to Hillary: “If you opposed NAFTA within the administration, did you write any memos objecting to NAFTA? Did you ever tell Al Gore, the administration’s point man, that you opposed NAFTA?

Larraby on March 4, 2008 at 10:01 AM

Do I want to take this chance? Hell no.

funky chicken on March 4, 2008 at 10:05 AM

Just don’t say he’s tap-dancing around the issue.

That would be racist.

The Hustle“, maybe?

profitsbeard on March 4, 2008 at 10:09 AM

It also shows him to have a lot less courage than he assigns to himself, refusing either to stand up to the protectionists in his party or the Canadians and Mexicans.

He also made his response to the 3 A.M ad about courage – the courage to be opposed to the Iraq War before it started, which of course required no courage at all since he was not a U.S. Senator at the time:

“It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep,” the narrator says. “But there’s a phone ringing in the White House. Something’s happening in the world. When that call gets answered, shouldn’t the president be the one — the only one — who had judgment and courage to oppose the Iraq war from the start. Who understood the real threat to America was al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan, not Iraq. Who led the effort to secure loose nuclear weapons around the globe.

“In a dangerous world, it’s judgment that matters,” the announcer concludes.

Buy Danish on March 4, 2008 at 10:12 AM

Larraby on March 4, 2008 at 10:01 AM

Good points, all. How exactly do you “opt out” of a treaty? Forget the resulting diplomatic fallout between Canada and Mexico, what about the rest of the countries in the world we have treaties with? It would signal that our word isn’t worth dirt anymore. It also sets a dangerous precedent: if we can “opt out” of a treaty, the other party can, too.

amkun on March 4, 2008 at 10:13 AM

Bloom falling off the rose?

I can just hear the McCain camp taking notes waiting to hit him in the general.

Theworldisnotenough on March 4, 2008 at 10:19 AM

We could be making a mistake thinking that Hillary is the preferrable opponent in the general. He’s a political Joel Osteen without the religion… not much more than fluff. It’s hard to believe that fluff has the staying-power to get him through to the WH.

MT on March 4, 2008 at 10:30 AM

I quite frankly don’t care about NAFTA, or about what Obama promised a bunch of union folks in Ohio or in Canada, for that matter. I don’t hate NAFTA or love it, so it seems that it would be fair for POTUS to re-examine the treaty if there are problems with it.

Obama’s certitude and “courage” when he says that he WILL cut funding for “future weapons systems” and “failed missile defense systems” concerns me much more.

funky chicken on March 4, 2008 at 10:32 AM

So if Canada doesn’t like us reneging on a legal treaty, would he bomb them, too?

Squiggy on March 4, 2008 at 10:38 AM

Well the one thing that is obvious, he cannot be taken at his word. He is not the new style politician he professes to be.

bopbottle on March 4, 2008 at 10:41 AM

The Lyah Messiah

ronsfi on March 4, 2008 at 10:48 AM

Perhaps more importantly, someone should be asking Professor Goolsbee if he’s had any other “unofficial sitdowns” with foreign leaders on behalf of his university.

Has he told Malaki not to worry, that its only campaign rhetoric and Obambi knows he can’t pull the troops out but he also knows winning can only come from saying he will?

And if Goolsbee met with Canadian officials to give them a heads-up, wouldn’t he have done the same with some Mexican officials?

Where are the investigative journalists?

In Barry’s back pocket. That’s where.

fogw on March 4, 2008 at 11:03 AM

I, personally have the audacity to hope that people start to see through this snake oil salesman. He is nothing more than a used car salesman in a suit. A really nice suit.

midwesternperspective on March 4, 2008 at 11:13 AM

I have noticed that some of the veneer has worn off Senator Obama of late. Perhaps he has peaked too soon.

carolina592 on March 4, 2008 at 11:22 AM

Nice job, Byron and Ed.

Wildcatter1980 on March 4, 2008 at 11:44 AM

He thinks people are stupid, like most Democrats. I hope he’s wrong.

Asher on March 4, 2008 at 9:54 AM

I ‘hope’ so, too, Asher…
But I fear he is right. Watching the focus groups of undecided voters has been rather traumatic for me. Still no one knows anything about him, but they love him. Even as recently as last night, all I was hearing was an overwhelming majority of swooners talking about his youthfulness, how well he gives a speech, his sincerity, how good he looks….
What gets to me even more is that hundreds of people are making complete fools of themselves over him on national television. My husband keeps telling me this is American Idol/Survivor mentality. They don’t know any better. Americans have been dumbed down to this.
I guess my almost complete lack of experience with pop culture since high school leaves me unable to understand a majority of my fellow countrymen.
I’m floored, I tell ya.

shibumiglass on March 4, 2008 at 12:03 PM

Obama has made a campaign on the basis of character. Even apart from his continuing ties to people like Tony Rezko, William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn, the NAFTA Dance shows the character of his campaign as less than stellar.


Nice close, Ed. Let me translate for the less eloquent readers here, in my own special style: Obama is a douche.

Jaibones on March 4, 2008 at 2:18 PM

I say once again, Mr. Obama, your mask is slipping. :)

ThePrez on March 4, 2008 at 4:33 PM