Wednesday night, Mitt Romney punctured the balloon that was Barack Obama’s inflated reputation as a debater and communicator. I guess having a hollow core and thin skin is a bad combination.
Romney did this largely by turning out not to be the stick figure that Obama had been running against for the last 18 months, and which he had apparently internalized as actually being the actual Mitt Romney. So in some respects, the left’s and the Democrats’ disillusionment with Obama is a result of Obama’s disillusionment with the opponent his campaign constructed for him. So far, his only response has been to complain that Mitt the Man is a better candidate than Mitt the Myth, and to argue that Mitt must have been lying during the debate. Romney’s campaign has responded with an ad calling Obama on his own campaign’s admission that Romney’s proposed net tax cut won’t be any near $5 trillion, an admission echoed by the media “fact-checkers” that, up until now, Obama had held up as the Gold Standard of Absolute Truth.
That said, some of Obama’s own claims during the debate turn out to be at least misleading. At one point, during an answer ostensibly about working across the aisle, Obama mentioned three free trade agreements passed in 2011:
“That’s how we signed three trade deals into law that are helping us to double our exports and sell more American products around the world.”
But of course, Obama inherited those free trade agreements – with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia – from the Bush administration, and he sat on them for over two years before submitting them to the Republican-controlled House, where they were approved, and the Democrat Senate, where they passed overwhelmingly. In this regard, the comparisons with President Clinton are instructive. One of Clinton’s first acts was to submit NAFTA for Congressional approval, where it passed a Democrat House largely on the strength of Republican backing, and against the wishes of the Democratic majority. The Democrat leadership simply wasn’t going to submarine a brand-new Democrat president on one of his first initiatives. Obama had the option to do the same thing anytime during his first two years in office, but chose to wait until the demands grew loud under a Republicans House to do so.
His claims to being open to Republican ideas have always been a sham, but in this case, they’re little more than an attempt to cover up for the fact that he all but ignored economic growth and job creation for his first two years in office. The difference between Clinton’s & Obama’s trade policy lies in contrast to the similarity in their politics, though. Clinton has tried mightily to take credit for the benefits of a welfare reform bill that he only adopted once his party lost control of Congress. Likewise with Obama and these bilateral trade agreements. (In what would be a bizarre claim for an actual news organization, the Washington Post at the time tried to spin this as a win for Obama, rather than his bowing to reality.)
Closer to Colorado, Congressman Ed Perlmutter apparently never got the message, and was the one member of Colorado’s Congressional delegation to vote against all three agreements. Colorado’s trade with Panama and Colombia is relatively small, but we export hundreds of millions of dollars a year in goods to South Korea, an economy which, while running a trade surplus, isn’t nearly the export-driven economy that it used to be. Perlmutter was the only Colorado representative who professed to see a threat to local jobs in these agreements. Even Diana DeGette, long in the tank for the unions, only opposed the Colombian agreement.
As we progressively disabuse ourselves of illusions regarding Democrats, perhaps the next two to fall will be that Obama deserves credit for free trade, and that Perlmutter understands the topic at all.