At least we know why Mark Penn didn’t think his representation of the free trade pact with Colombia presented much of a conflict of interest with his position as chief strategist for the Hillary Clinton campaign. The Colombian government reminded everyone today that Bill Clinton publicly backed the pact just three years ago. However, the Clinton campaign says that Bill and Hillary still have the right to disagree:

A reader in Latin America turned up a June 23, 2005 article from the news portal Terra (reprinted (.doc) by the Bogota government) that quotes Bill Clinton offering unambiguous support for the free trade agreement with Colombia.

The article is in Spanish, so what follows is a translation of a translation, but the gist is unmistakable:

“We need your help to expedite the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU is very important to give a clear signal of what the relations between the two countries should be,” President Alvaro Uribe said yesterday to the former president of the EU Bill Clinton, during Expogestion 2005.

“I will raise your point when you return to the United States,” Clinton replied. “I am in favor of the free trade agreement and it is my hope that we will find the right formula to reach the agreement.”

In fact, Bill favored a free-trade pact as far back as 2000, before the Colombian government implemented a series of reforms that brought violence against trade unionists down 86%. In 2005, those reforms had already begun improving the lives of Colombians of all stripes, which makes Clinton’s continued support more compelling. Since then, the strategic position of Colombia has only increased, given the erratic behavior of Hugo Chavez and his apparent support for FARC terrorists.

Does that require Hillary to support the pact? No. However, she has made a point of running on her husband’s economic record, and trade pacts like NAFTA contributed to the economic expansion in the 1990s. Given that she has now claimed to oppose NAFTA and free trade pacts in general, what about the Clinton administration’s economic policy does she embrace? Welfare reform?

It also comprised a significant part of the foreign policy of the Clinton administration. The idea of turning the Western Hemisphere into a free-trade zone had more than just economics in mind. The idea was to promote an expansion of economic freedom to help isolate tinpot dictators like Chavez and raise the standard of living to promote stability in South America. How would Clinton accomplish those goals — or are those no longer goals of the Clintons?

A more cynical view would be that nothing much has changed since the 1990s. Instead of Bill doing all of the triangulating, it’s now become a tag team. Populists can rely on Hillary’s stump rhetoric, while moderates can hope that Bill’s influence will move a Hillary presidency back to the center. The only problem is that the routine has gotten so predictable that it may have convinced Democrats to back Barack Obama instead.