The Democratic Party has long seen themselves as the champion for the working class and the common man. To draw from the Democratic National Committee’s website: “For decades, Democrats have stood alongside labor unions in defense of fair pay and economic security. Democrats understand that labor unions helped build America’s middle class, and organized labor remains critical to fulfilling America’s basic bargain: If you work hard and do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.” Conversely, while the Republican Party is committed to capitalism and limited government intrusions as a method of providing for the interests of all Americans, the Democratic Party tends to stand in opposition to this. This isn’t to say that Democrats reject the value of capitalism or wish for government regulations to become overly burdensome, but rather that they view unregulated markets as potentially detrimental to America. To that end, the Democratic Party is rightly viewed as a champion of unions and, accordingly, workers’ rights.
Domestic Policies that Impact International Trade
The DNC’s website continues further to explain that they “want to guarantee that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed and that all working families can enjoy economic security. Democrats won’t be satisfied until every American who wants to work can find a job. By making debt-free college available to all Americans, cracking down on companies that ship profits and jobs overseas, fighting for equal pay and paid leave, and ensuring the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations pay their fair share, Democrats will never stop fighting to build an economy works for all.” Now – this outlines a great deal of the DNC platform regarding economic concerns within our country, which is certainly a significant factor when assessing policies on trade. That being said, ultimately the greater considerations regarding the topic of trade revolve around international agreements and how they impact our workers and economy. This, clearly then, requires first looking inward (as we began by doing), and then looking outward. And, as we attempt to look outward, it would seem that there would be no better place to start than by considering the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Starting with the obvious explanation as a matter of cautious introduction: what is NAFTA? NAFTA is a trade agreement entered into by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. “The United States commenced bilateral trade negotiations with Canada more than 30 years ago, resulting in the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force on January 1, 1989. In 1991, bilateral talks began with Mexico, which Canada joined. The NAFTA followed, entering into force on January 1, 1994. Tariffs were eliminated progressively and all duties and quantitative restrictions, with the exception of those on a limited number of agricultural products traded with Canada, were eliminated by 2008.” While the initial agreement with Canada was entered into under President Bush, the full body of NAFTA entered into law during President Clinton’s administration and with Clinton’s support. This is notable because it shows an area of agreement between two very different Presidential administrations in support of free trade. The hopes of both administrations were pinned on optimistic assessments of what such an agreement would provide in the way of opportunities for both workers and exports. The view from nearer to the present day, though, isn’t nearly as positive for many traditionally Liberal groups. “Labor leaders see Clinton’s 1994 signing of NAFTA, which created a free-trade zone with Canada and Mexico, as the moment when blue collar wages began to stagnate.” And herein we can identify the political blowback Democrats in the present day are seeing from the acts of President Clinton. While the goals of NAFTA were lofty and idealized, the view of many Democrats in the here and now is that it has acted against the interests of portions of our workforce.
Adjusting Democratic Views on Trade
And this is the point where we come full circle to the modern day where the Democratic Party is staking out a different position than that taken in previous years by the likes of President Clinton and President Obama. In this effort we’re seeing a renewed commitment to acting as the voice of the working class on issues of trade, both in terms of national reforms and international agreements. And, for many Liberals, this is a return to the values the Democratic Party should have been championing over the last two decades. For example, we can look at Senator Robert Casey’s recent comments on the matter – including an articulation of the need to renegotiate NAFTA. “When we say renegotiating NAFTA, we mean a transformation, something substantial, not just going through the motions,” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. told union leaders recently, referring to the administration’s talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement. For Democrats, Casey’s pitch signals a wholehearted revival of their labor roots and a sharp departure from the free-trade tilt of the past two Democratic presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. And while I’ve drawn from Senator Casey particularly, he certainly isn’t standing alone on this issue. Senator Chuck Schumer and a number of other Democratic Senators are preaching a similar line of thought to their constituents: “The problem is President Trump has talked a good game but done nothing on trade but study it,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, said outside the Capitol as he introduced the second phase of the party’s ‘Better Deal’ messaging blueprint for the 2018 midterm elections. The real question moving forward, then, must be whether these renewed efforts on the behalf of the working class will serve to win the Democrats additional Congressional seats in the rapidly approaching 2018 elections.
- Union Members and Families – Democrats.org
- Jobs and the Economy – Democrats.org
- North American Free Trade Agreement – Office of the United States Trade Representative
- Can Hillary Clinton Step Out of Bill’s NAFTA Shadow? – CNN
- Donald Trump On Trade
- Republican Views On Trade
- Republican Views on Small Business
- Democratic Views On Taxes
- Democratic Views on the Federal Budget
- Democratic Views on College Tuition
- Democratic View on Immigration
- Democratic Views on The Economy
- Democratic Views on Welfare
- Democratic Views on Poverty