USA Today: Democrats channeling Herbert Hoover

Democrats like to use the specter of Herbert Hoover when shrieking hysterically about the national economy, attempting to frighten voters into thinking that we have reached the precipice of a new Great Depression. USA Today throws the argument back at them in a much more substantial manner. If the economy truly has begun a major stall akin to Hoover’s 1929, then Democrats have decided on a replay of the Smoot-Hawley Act that will guarantee a major global crisis:

Obama was embarrassed after an aide told the Canadian government that Obama wasn’t really serious about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. And Clinton pushed aside her top strategist, Mark Penn, whose day job as public relations executive led him to promote a trade pact with Colombia that the candidate opposes.

These episodes have been dissected as gaffes, tactical errors or, in Penn’s case, conflicts of interest. What they really are is evidence of the candidates’ willingness to pander on free trade — and their party’s growing willingness to accept the labor movement’s defeatist anti-trade positions.

There is no compelling reason to reopen NAFTA, or to think that the United States could do any better on second effort. The addition of more than 30 million U.S. jobs since it went into effect in 1994 makes it hard to argue it has been bad for the nation. …

That the Colombia deal might be in trouble shows how Democrats have been worn down by years of facile anti-trade arguments. With free-trader John McCain atop the Republican ticket, the two parties arguably are further apart on trade now than at any moment since 1932.

The irony is that back then, their roles were reversed, with Republican Herbert Hoover pushing high tariffs and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt opposing them.

The good news might be that it’s all just an act. Democrats may just be, as USA Today puts it, pandering to the Rust Belt in order to gin up enough anger to fill campaign coffers. Their appeal to emotionalism has small donors giving in droves to the two Democratic presidential candidates, and protectionism has long since supplanted surrender in Iraq as the main plank in appeals from the stump.

Unfortunately, that makes it even more likely that it’s not just an act. The populist turn in Democratic politics has been too substantial and too reinforced by those donations for a Democratic president to reverse course after the election. The reversal of free-trade progress would be almost certain, and the collapse of NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Colombian free-trade pact would seriously impact economies here and abroad.

As the editors point out, the irony is that the Colombian pact would benefit the US more than Colombia, although it would boost both national economies. Colombia already imports here tariff-free as an incentive to suppress its drug trade. American goods, especially agricultural goods, face up to 80% tariffs in the Colombian market, making them non-competitive. If we slap tariffs on Colombian goods, we will lose the nation to the orbit of Hugo Chavez and the other socialists in the region, and we will lose their cooperation against narco-trafficking.

The Smoot-Hawley act made nations economic opponents instead of partners at the time they most needed cooperation. If the economy is as important and as unstable as Democrats claim, the answer would be freer trade and less barriers to American goods abroad. Instead, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to take their cues from Hoover and make matters exponentially worse.