After reporting on Barack Obama’s dance with the Canadians on NAFTA yesterday, Canadian broadcaster CTV got accused of perpetrating a smear against the Democratic front-runner. They insisted that Obama meant every word he said about overturning the free-trade treaty, and that no one had contacted the Canadian diplomatic corps to reassure them that it was mere demagoguery. CTV responded today by naming names — and suddenly the Obama campaign has grown quiet:
The Obama campaign told CTV late Thursday night that no message was passed to the Canadian government that suggests that Obama does not mean what he says about opting out of NAFTA if it is not renegotiated.
However, the Obama camp did not respond to repeated questions from CTV on reports that a conversation on this matter was held between Obama’s senior economic adviser — Austan Goolsbee — and the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago.
Earlier Thursday, the Obama campaign insisted that no conversations have taken place with any of its senior ranks and representatives of the Canadian government on the NAFTA issue. On Thursday night, CTV spoke with Goolsbee, but he refused to say whether he had such a conversation with the Canadian government office in Chicago. He also said he has been told to direct any questions to the campaign headquarters.
CTV didn’t stop there. They also announced that their sources, at “the highest levels of the Canadian government”, reconfirmed the story to CTV. One of their primary sources provided a timeline of the discussion to CTV. Contrary to some reports, CTV has not retreated at all from this story.
Jim Geraghty notes:
I realize Obama’s campaign can still claim that one of his advisers went rogue in contacting the Canadians about his NAFTA rhetoric, but to me, this is game, set and match to CTV. … If Goolsbee had not talked to officials in the consulate, it seems likely that his answer would have been, “No, I didn’t talk to them.”
Who is Austin Goolsbee? According to this press release from last September, Goolsbee serves as the Senior Economic Advisor to the Obama campaign. He was highly touted by Obama in his visit to Iowa in that month, when he showed his intellectual chops by bringing Goolsbee along with a raft of other advisers, in part to show that he wasn’t a political lightweight.
It will be rather hard to distance himself from Goolsbee at this point. If Goolsbee spent time reassuring the Canadians sotto voce that Obama was merely demagoguing on NAFTA, then voters need to understand that the supposed “new politics” of Obama smells very similar to that of the same old lies and empty rhetoric we have heard from the Beltway for decades. And without that “new politics”, Obama is nothing more than an empty suit with a pleasant voice.
UPDATE: ABC also gets some refusal to confirm or deny from both Goolsbee and the Canadian diplomat in question, Georges Rioux.