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.