I've always thought that you can tell the quality of an American politician by their attitude to trade. In the States it is so easy, but so unimpressive, for a politician of any ideological stripe to make a populist appeal to protectionist instincts. American protectionism can cause so much harm to both their own prosperity and the world economy but it offers easy wins for a politician willing to pander to the protectionists.
Lawson's excellent article in the Independent yesterday sets out just how dismal Obama has been on this issue:
"Obama is one of three Congressional sponsors of "The Patriot Employer Act", which seeks to give preferential tax status to American companies that choose not to invest overseas. His anti-globalisation rhetoric goes far beyond criticism of free-trade deals such as Nafta. Obama told voters in New Hampshire:"I would stop the import of all toys from China". China supplies 80 per cent of the toys sold in the US, so that's one heck of a pile of embargoed fluffy bunnies."
The risks of the current down turn being turned into something far worse by a return to protectionism couldn't be clearer. A trade war with China could cause untold impoverishment and even be strategically dangerous. His hostility to Nafta would undermine the international drive for new free trade agreements that would do great things for poor and rich countries alike.
Any politician who argues for and sponsors this kind of protectionism is either a dishonest hack or an autarkic socialist. Hopefully Obama is the former - it seems quite plausible - but that would still make President Obama an alarming prospect. As Lawson says:
"The trouble is that Barack Obama has now promised Americans that he will legislate in an attempt to prevent their jobs being lost to foreign competition. If he does not do so as President, they will feel betrayed. If he does so, it will be an even bigger betrayal."
This is an area where McCain has been excellent and taken real political risks. Notably, when he refused to pander to the Iowa corn lobby. I think on those grounds alone we, in the British centre right, should wish him well. Particularly if he is against an opponent who, on this issue and others, promotes truly disastrous policies.
Cross-posted from CentreRight.Com.