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February 26, 2008


This is painful.

Care to elaborate?

I am stuck without being able to watch this can any of you give me a sense of what is going on?

(btw hilzoy--you rock!)

my god Russert just bitchslapped her on the NAFTA issue.

is it right that she said something about a pillow? my dial up keep getting stuck...

I may be biassed. But: it's pretty testy. Clinton seems to me to be off somehow. She went on this thing about how odd she finds it that she always gets the first question. She seems sort of desperate to me.

she just can't pull off canned lines. The SNL reference was just dreadful.

thanks hilzoy I trust your analysis and since I cant watch I appreciate anything you have to say about what is going on. I was wondering which Hillary would show up tonight, and hoped Obama would stay cool

Otoh, she just responded well to another Russert attempted gotcha. (About earlier promise to create new jobs in upstate NY.)

Um, so can we say that the "go out with class" meme is dead, this is some bitter sarcastic stuff here!

sorry for the blind questions but I am gathering she is pretty angry?

Russert is awful.

I think Russert is doing a better job at moderating than Brian Williams.

Obama's best debate by far. Strong and presidential. Hilary is somehow "off"; perhaps a little desperate.

She's not going to win by talking over everybody and jousting with the moderators. That is exactly what people dislike about HRC. It's in part sexist, I know. But it is what it is.

Why on earth would a candidate complain about getting the questions first?

And why didn't Obama step up by offering to take the questions first, if she'd prefer it?

I thought you weren't watching, hilzoy? :) I thought the whole health care debate was pretty painful.

I think Josh Marshall's characterization of Timmy Boy was right: "What if we partly withdrew and then the Iraqis told us to completely withdraw and then al Qaida was elected president and then they allied with North Korea, do you have a policy ready for that!?!?!?!" He's driving me nuts.

Heh. "Sounds good." This should be interesting.

"That changes tonight."

I think she's doing quite badly.

1st line: about not watching.

to all of you posting comments I just wanted to thank you, being unable to watch it is great to hear all of your impressions

Before break, she spent a while trying to keep talking over the moderators. It was painful.

The real blow so far: Clinton said "after O. got into the Senate, our voting records were the same." Obama replied: "once you drive the bus into the ditch, there are only so many ways to get out of it. But you have to ask who voted to drive the truck into the ditch in the first place."

Russert's questions beg the question in irritating ways. "If Al Qaeda sets up base in Iraq, would you reserve the right to invade?"

Why on earth would we presume that invading would be the appropriate response to an Al Qaeda? How about just bombing their base like Clinton did in 1998, if I remember right? Duh. But ya see, the question doesn't have any teeth to it unless Russert makes the presupposition.

A "yes" answer is supposed to make you look silly and ineffective. A "no" answer is supposed you look like a coward.

I'm all for tough questions and pegging down candidates but not when the questions are tough in the way that "When did you stop beating your wife?" is tough.

Clinton: words not enough; we need a fighter on health care.

Obama: about 1993, I think that there were a number of reasons why health care failed, but one of them was that Senator Clinton thought that all you had to do was fight. (Or something like that.)

is it my bias or is he doing really well (just based on what you are all saying)?'s feed is *horrendous*... has always been smooth as silk, but MSNBC's offering is a slide-show.

Perhaps more than just hilzoy are tuning in tonight? Anyway, I'm glad people are posting comments... since I think you are beating the buffering at this point.

Bear in mind, I could be biassed. But I think he's winning, though she has had good moments.

1st line: about not watching.

Reading is for wimps.

Oops. Russert is going to town on the records issue. Oooooooops. has a good feed.

Obama: vague answer on campaign finance and public money.

Clinton: says she will release tax returns when she has been nominee, "maybe before". (I actually think this is a very big deal: I want to know what's in there before the convention. Well before.)

Question for Obama on Farrakhan. O: I did not seek his support; have condemned his antisemitic remarks, etc. Russert: will you reject his support? O: I can't tell someone he can't say I'm a good guy. But condemn stuff he's said.

Go to for a non-stuttering live stream.

Question for O. about his pastor's praise of Farrakhan. How can he reassure Jewish Americans? Ugh.


Thanks for the link, as that is about a million times better.

Clinton: well, I do reject the support of people I dislike!

Okay, what Russert is doing is sleazy not just to Obama, but more so to Jews.

How dare he start dragging up hateful things said by someone two steps removed from the candidate to conduct a smear attack? Obama answers the question, but that's not enough. Then Russert has to try to quote the particular hateful things Farrakhan said.

And then ask an unanswerable question, something like: "Given these statements, how can you reassure Jews?"

I wish the audience would start booing Russert.

Gee, Clinton is trying to out-denounce Obama. Impressive. She can denounce harder, you know.

Wait, Obama can reject and denounce.

Can they both do it while rubbing their stomach and patting their head?

My vote depends on the answer!

It was pretty repulsive. Though so, for my money, was Clinton's reply. More ugh.

I think it's downright scary how hard it seems to be to knock Obama off his game, or visibly get under his skin.

This is easily HRCs worst performance. She attacks on rejecting versus renouncing, and he manages to make her attacks look silly, strained, and childish.

I like the way Obama has made explaining policy essential to his answer about being allegedly "more liberal than Ted Kennedy." Good answer, I thought.

Segued into boilerplate, though.

Frankly I think this a fal debate preview in a way, I imagine Mccain (from what I saw in the GOP debates) will be even easier to fluster than HRC was.

I have a perverse curiosity as to how Mike Huckabee would have answered "what can you tell us about Putin's successor?" question.

Question to Obama: what question does HRC have to answer to prove she's worthy of being nominee? He says she's worthy, and doesn't have anything more to prove.

Quick, Tim Russert! Name all the first-born children of the party leaders in the Duma!

Time's up! YOU LOSE


Yeah, darn straight, Hilzoy. Obama has a kind of virtuosic cool. It's almost a pleasure to watch, as a kind of performance.

This was an awful debate.

The last three CNN debates, which were the only debates I watched prior to this one, were good because the moderators mostly stepped back (even Wolf Blitzer!) and let the candidates mostly go at it with each other.

This debate was mostly just the moderators asking questions separately to each candidate. an F to NBC, and especially Tim Russert, who beyond that was just disgusting with the Farrakhan thing.

Russert was disgusting tonight. Someone needs to organize a response to NBC. He needs to be censured. Completely unacceptable.

Obama/Clinton over Russert/Williams in a landslide.

Good lord, that was horrible. I never thought I'd be looking back fondly at John King's moderation. Wow.

I wonder how many of those autographs are going on eBay.

John King and Campbell Brown were actually great by comparison. With Russert (and Williams, to a lesser extent) it always has to be all about them.

Gee, guys....tell us what you think of the moderators...

Question to Obama: what question does HRC have to answer to prove she's worthy of being nominee? He says she's worthy, and doesn't have anything more to prove.

Hm. Kind of hard for her to attack him on this...

(But really kind of predictable...was pretty obvious that Obama could be that gracious in his sleep....)

What a boring debate. I've watched the last seven, I can't watch anymore.

Russert disappointed me! The Farrakhan question riles me so much!
I think he answered the ridiculous question the best he can: he laughed at it. Denounce and move ON.

Hmm. I thought Obama's answer to Farrakhan was actually good -- asking candidates to "denounce" every nutcase who supports them is ridiculous, not least of all because it gives windbags like Farrakan too much credit when the proper way to deal with them is to ignore them.

The alternative is to let them control the discourse by reacting to their histrionics like they're credible -- which leads to people like Russert injecting them into debates where they shouldn't even be acknowledged in the first place. Obama didn't hedge on that question at all.

Seriously, if Tim Russert asks, "Do you support Vladimir Zhirinovsky?" do you launch into a detailed denunciation of his Take Back Alaska And Wash The Blood Off Our Boots In The Indian Ocean platform, or just say, "No"? You say No and move on. (I guess if you're CNN, you could hire him as a pundit. But they had to counter the tidal force that is Tim Russert somehow.)

I concur on the closing questions: what I came away with was BHO's grace and HRC's repeated use of "I." I don't like her and don't want her to be the nominee, but she fought a good fight (mostly) and I hope she can show some of the grace BHO demonstrated this evening.

Otherwise, this was largely a waste of time, probably because the issues have been so thoroughly hashed over that there's nothing left but inane Russert hypotheticals. Ugh.

thanks all of you for keeping up to date--stuck in a strictly bad dial up situation for the evening.

Clinton quote: ‘I will fix NAFTA’; Clinton solution:
1. Environmental Controls
2. Enforceability

Obama: ‘I want to be an advocate on behalf of workers.’; Obama solution:
1. Labor Standards
2. Environmental Standards
3. Safety Standards

Andrea Mitchell: “They took a hard line on NAFTA.”

Translation: We will do nothing to stop the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs other than tell the Mexicans to establish environmental programs and an EEOC.

Mexico will do neither and these two know it. Manufacturers will continue to move south where they can pay $1/hr with no benefits. Andrea Mitchell is either stupid or corrupt.

I think the thing that always startles me with Russert is how belligerent he is when faced with Dems.
After wwatching him preen and posture with his Republican guests every week, it always surprises me what a jerk he is.
Before the debate he told a lie.
He said that no one had ever questioned her toughness. Except of course for all of them questioning whether she was tough enough to be president when a tear welled up prior to New Hampshire.
Timmeh's pants did not burst into flame, but I feel they would have were there any justice for corporate propagandists.

I can't decide which was the worst question Russert asked this evening. I think it comes down to either the hypothetical he asked Clinton, "If we withdraw from Iraq, and al Qaeda injects steroids into Roger Clemens' ass, would you invade Canada?" or his offensive question to Obama, "Since your cousin once picked up a pamphlet from Louis Farrakhan, does that mean you want to kill all the Jews?"

Q: “What do you make of Dmitry Medvedev?”

A: “We need to make our commitment to human rights more apparent to the Russians.”

Q: “If the Russians go into Kosovo, what do you do?”

A: “Work with our international partners.”

I think there is a good chance that the Serbians, backed by Moscow, will retake Kosovo by force before the Democratic Convention. Europeans are learning to hate the EU (our main ‘international partner’) and are growing wary of the religious enclaves who shall remain nameless growing in their Cities.

The Europeans would not oppose Russia and the US would not want to start a third hot front, especially with the Russians. Because of this, the Russian rules of engagement would be loose and the conflict would very likely be horrible. The talking heads will make comparisons with World War One. A Kosovo conflict would open people’s eyes to the true nature of warfare and scare many. Neither Hillary nor Obama has a strong executive background and they both look pretty weak as a prospective Commander in Chief.

That is why Al Gore is the most likely Democratic candidate in 2008.

This is off-topic from the debate, but...

Turkey is sponsoring a general overhaul of hadith, with an emphasis on purging traditional but non-Islamic elements and producing a body of Islamic reference more compatible with modern life.

"Europeans are learning to hate the EU"

Yes, their living standards, level of political freedom, and and the accompanying widespread discontent has them on the verge of revolution.

Care to give any cites on this?

"A Kosovo conflict would open people’s eyes to the true nature of warfare"

Unlike Chechnya.

"That is why Al Gore is the most likely Democratic candidate in 2008."

I have to say that your predictive powers, and analytic accuracy, are consistently amazing.

I think there is a good chance that the Serbians, backed by Moscow, will retake Kosovo by force before the Democratic Convention. Europeans are learning to hate the EU (our main ‘international partner’) and are growing wary of the religious enclaves who shall remain nameless growing in their Cities.

Um, what?

Who's "growing wary of the religious enclaves who shall remain nameless growing in their Cities"? Why don't you just come right out and say "Europeans are afraid of the Muslims"? That is what you're talking about, right?

This comment is both clueless and disgusting.

This comment is both clueless and disgusting.

What do you expect of someone who thinks you have to emulate the "enemy" to beat them.

“Will not take PAC money.”;
“Doesn’t help if you are taking millions of dollars from special interests.”

Here's another prediction Gary:

Names to remember: Auchi (Iraq), General Mediterranean Holding (Luxembourg), AR Pizza (Chicago), Fintrade Services SA (Panama), and don’t ever forget Rezko (Syria).

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate."

I predict that a bigger garden was Michelle’s idea.

Great news, Bill! You can go to Intrade and pay $1.70 for shares of Gore that will be worth $100 after he wins the nomination.

Adam; I was trying to provide my analysis without provoking your reaction.

My observations:

It struck me as a very even debate, with Obama looking slightly better, which in the context of the current campaign is fine for him and not so good for her. In general I thought that Obama played a fairly defensive game plan and succeeded - he seemed to be very good in this debate at limiting damage by conceding points to Hillary without looking weak (metaphorically making her kick field goals instead of giving up touchdowns), while making the most of his chances to keep making her pay for her AUMF vote again and again, such that all roads led to Iraq, on foreign policy, experience, and judgment questions.

The more nasty tone of the dueling speeches and campaign mailers which has occurred just in the last several days since the Austin debate, as well as fatigue on the part of both candidates had a small but subtle effect on this debate, which was never very directly negative but had a pinched and rather tired feel to it, especially coming from Hillary.

Depending on your point of view, Hillary seemed either peevish and sarcastic (con), or tough and aggressive (pro), while Obama seemed either cool and unflappable (pro), or aloof and reserved (con).

Hillary seems to have picked health care as the metaphorical hill that she has chosen to die on. She passed up an early chance to accuse the Obama campaign of hypocrisy on the subject of honest and positive messaging (one of Obama's strengths up to this point) with regard to the flyers circulated by his campaign in Ohio this week, and instead went straight into health care.

I think this was a tactical mistake on her part - the resulting 16 minute slog over health care mandates felt like a draw, when she might have been able to score some negative points against him on campaign tone and knock down some of his positives with voters. Perhaps the Clinton campaign has decided to try to emphasize her strength on health care rather than trying to tear down Obama on his campaign style as a concession to Democratic unity, or maybe she felt the need to be more indirect in her attacks in the 1-1 debate format (vs. stump speeches).

The idiot questions from the moderators didn't bother me as much as they seem to have bothered some other posters here. I saw them as an audition for how the candidates would have to field questions from a WH press corps that is just as idiotic, not to mention the debates in the general election with McCain.

I thought both of them did pretty well, except for the "hah ha! betcha can't name the leading candidate for President of Russia!" question from Russert. On that gotcha question I thought they both looked pretty bad - Hillary gave an "I'll tell you every thing I can think of that is distantly related to the topic, and hope you don't notice that I don't actually know the answer to the question as posed" response, while Obama's response was an elaborate version of "what she said" that made him look like a student caught in class peeking at his neighbor's test. Not impressive.

If one of them turns in a performance like that in the general election debates against McCain it will look bad. They'd better study up on foreign affairs and memorize the names of lots of foreign leaders (and their food preferences, their regional capitals, the names of their currencies, their favorite postage stamps, etc., etc.)

Other than that, Obama seemed much better on foreign policy questions than Hillary did. His detailed riposte on her "you said you would bomb Pakistan" line was very sharp, using the imprecision of her language vs. what he had actually said to turn an attack on him into points scored against her. He also handled several awkward moments gracefully, such as the way he reacted to the video clips of Hillary mocking him. Very Reagan-esque.

I liked the way Obama reacted to the Farrakhan question. At first it looked like he was going to squirm, that it put him in a tough spot, and then it seemed like he made an on the spot decision to go ahead and unequivocally throw Farrakhan under the bus, rather than try to fudge a have-it-both-ways answer. It seemed like he was actually thinking about how to handle the question, and then making a decision right then, rather than going over ground which had been prepared for and practiced for before hand.

When Hillary came back with that Reject vs. Denounce distinction on Farrakhan I almost expected him to say to her "what more do you want me to do, go over to his house and throw rocks through the window?". Hillary's counter statement about her experience in her NY Senate campaign standing up against an anti-Semitic group was lame, lame, lame.

Standing up against anti-Semitism in New-freaking-York is not exactly a profile in courage, but she tried to tell it like it was some sort of stand on principle. A stand on principle would be to denounce Israel in a NY primary, not the other way around. Give me a break. This is one of the things that from time to time really sours me on the Clinton campaign - not all the time, but every now and then they say something which sounds like they just plain think I'm too stupid to not see through them. Spinning is one thing, insulting my intelligence is another, and I wish they would just stop doing it already.

OK, now for a rant:

The thing that struck me the most about this debate was what was not discussed. The Economy. The housing market meltdown was not mentioned in any serious way, despite the fact that Cleveland is one of the epicenters of the subprime debacle. There was no talk about the economy at all really, except for skirmishing over the details of how to revise NAFTA.

From listening to this debate, you would never know that we are already in a recession, that a mini-depression is a distinct possibility, and that we are facing a deflationary spiral that depending on who you will believe will take us either in the direction of late 1970's stagflation or be a replay of 1990's Japan at best. This is the giant Pink Elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about right now, because it does not match up with the narrative of any campaign.

Obama does not want to talk about economic doom because it contradicts his message of hope and empowerment. Hillary wants to give people the impression that if she is elected we will jump into a time machine and go back to the economy of 1994 (only this time we all get to cash out those dot-com stock options before the bust). McCain doesn't want to talk about the economy because the GOP owns this recession to a large degree. Nobody wants to talk about the freaking economy.

This ticks me off, because the next Presidential administration will be totally dominated by the economy and fiscal policy issues. Other issues will be pushed out of the way, whether we like it or not, because there won't be any money left to pay for anything. I would sort of like to have a debate over the single biggest issue of the next four years, instead of a bunch of other stuff which would really matter if we lived in an alternative universe where the dollar isn't dropping like a stone, our access to foreign capital isn't drying up, interest payments (at soon to be rapidly rising rates) aren't eating the federal budget alive, the middle class isn't effectively bankrupt (now that their HELOCs are being turned off), and we won't be able to afford either one of an extended war in the Middle East or a mandated health care program because our entire country is going, or already has gone, flat dead broke.

If somebody can send me a bus ticket to the alternative reality where none of that stuff is actually happening, I would really appreciate it. In lieu of that, I would really appreciate a debate that actually addresses the more sucky reality I'm currently stranded in.

/end rant.

TLTABQ (ha, is everything turning into the captcha check?),
I'm not positive, but has Russert ever evinced any economic nous? A google trawl has this bit, and though I'm not sure, I think it might be indicative.

You know, going back, there seems to be some indication that Hillary was actually quite conciliatory with the Independence campaign at the time, quote the opposite of what she claimed tonight.

I posted it over at my place ->
So as to not take up room here

But I think it's worth reading. She was the one that wouldn't "resounce" or "reject" the anti-Semitic groups -- in fact she tried to have the worst of all possible ways... Ironically -- and somewhat sadly -- Obama's response to Farrakhan was far harsher than what she actualy did to the Independents. Bad move on her part to bring that up

If serbia with the support of Russia goes into Kosovo I suggest everyone remember WWI and complain and so forth, but do no more than they would in any random African country. Because there is no Cuban missile crisis sort of strategic advantage to some enemy here.

If Hillary or Obama are weak and do something diplomatic, and McCain is strong and starts WWIII and get us all killed then that makes the choice pretty simple.

Good news is it probably won't happen.

liberal japonicus,

You can call me LeftTurn for short it that is easier.

You are right that the debate moderators haven't stressed the economy (except for Russert's gotcha question to Hillary about job creation promises in her NY Senate run which she very deftly parried), but that hasn't stopped the candidates in this and other debates from verbally pushing the moderators off to the side and talking about whatever they wanted to talk about.

If one of the candidates really wanted to talk about the economy, we would have heard from them by now. For reasons I already summarized, I don't think any of them wants to be the first one to break the bad news to the American people. Might as well start wearing a cardigan to remind people of Jimmy Carter.

I just find it frustrating that IMHO Obama is probably going to spend a good portion of the next 4 years giving people the 21st Century equivalent of FDR's fireside chats and trying to figure out how to restart a busted economy, but nobody is really talking about the details of what is wrong with our economy in this election cycle in a serious way.

Coming up soon we have some very hard decisions to make, but this election will not deliver a mandate on what we should do, because it isn't being discussed.

Should we use fiscal and monetary policy to do our best to prop up the inflated values of our housing sector and other assets, which will probably mean a replay of 1990's Japan, where mark-to-book valuations have drawn out the agony every so slowly over a decade and a half?

Or should we take all of our lumps now (hoping to get it over with as quickly as possible), admit that something like 30% of our national wealth never really existed, except on paper courtesy of negative-real-interest-rate loans that we were fools to indulge in, and risk triggering a 2nd Great Depression if the resulting deflation is allowed to unwind all at once?

I don't know the answer to these questions. I don't know anyone who is smart and who thinks that they do. But I suspect that what we choose to do in the near future may make a difference in whether some of us 2-3 years from now are standing in line at soup kitchens talking about the good-ole-days back in 2008 when debating politics on blogs was what we did with our spare time rather than tending to our vegetable gardens and waiting for the few and far between remaining job openings.

Maybe we don't have a choice, that it is already out of our hands. Still, I feel like it would be nice if these choices were to be made on at least a semi-informed basis, so that we could have the small consolation of meeting our destiny with open eyes. Right now I feel like we are sleeping walking into the future, and I don't like it one bit.

Hopefully it won't be that bad. I tend to be a bit of an economic pessimist, what with being a child of the 1970's reared by parents with childhood memories of the Great Depression, and grandparents who never threw anything away. EVER. So grain of salt, etc.

Here's my right wingnut view:

I thought that HRC kept herself in check better than I expected. She had a few moments, but they were minor. Obama came over to me as more presidential and gets the nod. But I have a hard time being objective about HRC.

The health care "debate" was boring and worthless. I still wouldn't know what the differences are between their plans if I didn't have internet access. HRC gets away with saying she'll improve quality and lower costs through a government mandate (and free stickers for everyone!!!) without explanation of how in the world it will pay for itself. Oh, I forget, with TAX CREDITS. And they accuse Reagan of creative economics.

The same went for NAFTA. They both got away with saying they would "renegotiate" because some parts of the country have been worse off without saying what, exactly, they would change other than apparently making Mexico and Cananda adopt OSHA, CERLCA and a host of other regulations. Nothing about trucks from Mexico, nurses and attorneys from Canada, etc.

Overall, my impression of the debate is that both are well spoken, but not all that substantive. Certainly nothing to write home about. High marks for no major gaffes, speaking well, and good presentation style. Middling marks for substance. I though Obama handled the last question particularly well.

Taking exception; my daughter is a Canadian nurse in LA and you and yours are fortunate in her presence.
Left turn: Yes.
Since the late 60’s I’ve been waiting to see justice done on Wall Street, so my judgment is understood to be skewed.
Still, a scary storm is brewing and those hard rain clouds are casting some daunting shadows; and to pretend we can bring the sun back by ignoring the clouds suggests parallels with deck chairs on the Titanic.
That said, and granting that with all the anxious glances and confused scurrying by the experts no one seems able to move from diagnosis to remedy, encouraging the conclusion that there is none.
My likely starry-eyed assessment of Obama’s larger strategy: To establish his good faith and readiness to listen, to friend and foe alike, and his capable and even-handed intelligence; and so to nurture an active consensus amenable to concerted cooperative effort, that being the only means by which we may hope to minimize the damage and redirect national energies constructively.
I’ve noted before my conclusion that in such potentially dreadful times we can hope for no finer leader to help us steer around and past the truly fatal bits. Lincoln was the captain we needed in his time. Obama’s appearance at such a time as this seems set to supply us with whatever helpful correctives as may be humanly possible.
By stark contrast his opponent’s campaign offers no such hope, with its head so deeply planted in shifting sands.
In short and by way of reprise: Yeah. Either we keep sinking in our self-made quicksand, or we reorganize ourselves (writing as an expat) around a new ideal— well, not new but much neglected, of cooperative mutual regard.
Tactics towards that end will have to be principled, but can’t be otherwise predetermined; which is why specifics can’t be easily defined beforehand, and can only be sketched in broad terms.

Oh, and LeftTurn; your rant was particularly satisfying. Having made the odd attempt at such summaries, I thought you nailed things admirably. Concise and comprehensive is my reading.

NAFTA doesn't need to be "regotiated": it's working fine. Wages and standards in Mexico are steadily rising -- indeed, despite its proximity to the US, Mexico is starting to lose jobs to China. Evironmental concerns are improving. By historical standards, the US has experienced incredibly low unemployment during the NAFTA period -- yes, even today, in the midst of a (probable) recession.

I can see some justification to "tweak" NAFTA in limited respects, but all this talk of "renegotiating" NAFTA is pure pandering to the unions in industries that will never see job growth in the US, as well as to the nativists in the Democratic party.*

Very, very disappointing on this front.


*Before you point out that the Republican party also has its fair share of nativists: I know, I know.

NAFTA doesn't need to be "regotiated": it's working fine.

Von, a very, very disappointing and uninformed comment. One that just spits back the CW of those who have benefited from so called "free trade."

These "free trade" agreements (not just NAFTA) are nothing more than a way to get around having to bargain with labor. They are a stick used beat down labor and take away what little fairness workers not so long ago had to fight and die for.

"Free trade" agreements have devastated labor, not just in the US but all over the world (mostly b/c it is practically impossible to organize labor on a global scale - capital has no such problem). The result is NO safety for labor that gets paid impossibly low wages along with NO environmental protections.

I simply don't have the time to make the full argument, but here are some cogent comments on the matter from elsewhere:

Divguy at Yglesias post on NAFTA:

Wow. One often forgets that the netroots is wealthy and aggressively economically centrist, but this thread is a good reminded. Thank god we're not the base.

NAFTA has caused a loss of jobs in America, and the gains from free trade have been realized almost entirely at the top of the income ladder. It has also cut the legs out from under organized labor, which is a big part of the reason why the new wealth has not "trickled down." ...

In Mexico, the new jobs that have been created have been primarily lower wage, lower (no) benefits, lower (no) safety restrictions and lower (no) environmental protections. It has had disastrous effects on the agricultural economy of Mexico, due to the "freely traded", massively subsidized American corn that has flooded their market, and has replaced those jobs with dangerous, barely-paid, totally unregulated labor in the maquiladores. (Wages in maquiladores about about 50% lower than the wages in other Mexican manufacturing sectors.) The upper tenth of a percentile has seen very large profits, though.

From Dean Baker:

NAFTA did little to reduce tariff barriers to imports from Mexico. These were already low. What NAFTA was about was removing all the non-tariff barriers that prevented U.S. firms from locating manufacturing operations in Mexico and exporting their output back to the United States. By putting U.S. manufacturing workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in Mexico, NAFTA lowered their wages.

...we could ask hospitals what barriers prevent them from hiring Mexican doctors who would be happy to work for one-half of the wages of their U.S. counterparts. We could do the same for law firms, universities, and even newspapers. We could standardize education and professional standards so that Mexican kids could grow up and work as doctors in Los Angeles or lawyers in New York, just as easily as kids born in Chicago or Boston. This would lead to huge gains to the U.S. economy and greater equality in the United States instead of greater inequality.

But, we didn't... Instead we cut the number of foreign medical residents entering the country in half and changed our licensing procedures to make it harder for foreign doctors to enter the country. Furthermore, it would be illegal for a Wal-Mart University or a Wal-Mart hospital to explicitly hire foreign professors or doctors because they are willing to work for much lower wages than their U.S. born (or greencard holding) counterparts. Under the law, these institutions must first try to hire U.S. citizens before they can seek out foreign professionals.

If we had the same laws for manufactured goods, Wal-Mart would have to claim that they had tried to find U.S. made shoes or toys (and failed) before they could import these goods from China. Anyone could recognize that this would be protectionist in the case of manufactured goods, why is it so hard to understand that it is protectionist when applied to highly paid professional services.

Appreciate that your feelings are genuine, A-Train, but the CW is the CW for a reason.

Trade always has winners and losers. That does not mean that it is not better on net.

A-Train, if you can quantify the purported job losses from NAFTA, that would be helpful. Ross Perot was fond of citing a 6 million figure for predicted job loss, which has been soundly discredited. What's the new line?

(The evidence that I've seen suggests 41,000 jobs lost over the first three years that can be attributed to NAFTA, during a period in which the US economy routinely generated more than that number of jobs in a month.)

By the way, A-Train, I share certain of Dean Baker's complaints regarding the artificial monopoly powers created by licensing regimes. But he's not address the actual benefits or detriments of NAFTA per se, only pointing out that there may be advantages to further relaxing barriers to labor market entry.

Hey kids! Look what I found! More slime! Where will it end?
I guess it won’t.
Kinda reminds me of my good buddy Grunewald’s Temptation of St. Anthony. Drooling scaly inhuman things (cacodemons it seems, as in caca) trying to rip and rend the guy. Not a bad group protrait of the White House crewe.

Von, thanks for the civil reply (realize I was being a bit of a jerk).

Right now I'm busy w/work. But a quick answer, it's not just job losses (b/c the jobs that replace the lost ones often suck). And numbers on average wages distort as well because some people have gotten very wealthy based on these trade agreements(Bill Gates and 100 McDonald's employees average a high income).

It's just common sense. Here, we have hard won labor regulations (OSHA, child labor, unions, work week limits, etc) and envrionmental regulations. These force mfg to internalize more of the costs of their activity. In China and Mexico they don't. But workers in China and Mexico cannot afford the products they make. Soon neither will workers here in the US.

If you truly are interested, the info is out there (e.g. check out labor practices and environmental issues in China -- workers are disposable, in many ways it is worse that how it was in America in late 19th early 20th century).

In any case, it's a drag, but it can't last. It's a short term gain for those in the financial sector and those who help corporations move their money around and downsize. Nobody is going to be able to buy this stuff. The only reason it continues now is that the middle class is willing to go into debt (perhaps in the false hope that things will get better?).

Von, if you have the inclination, how about you point me to some of the benefits of "free trade" agreements? I realize that there are many arguments for it based on economic theories of markets and trade, but how about some evidence of actual benefits?

In the mean time, check out these reports/articles:

Von, if you have the inclination, how about you point me to some of the benefits of "free trade" agreements? I realize that there are many arguments for it based on economic theories of markets and trade, but how about some evidence of actual benefits?

I'm also a bit tied up with work, but will try to respond at the end of the day (including reviewing the papers that you've cited). (I'm traveling tomorrow & so if you don't hear from me by the end of the day, assume that this debate is continued for another time.) There is a lot of empirical, peer-reviewed evidence supporting the longstanding economic theories that demonstrate the advantages of free trade in the abstract. There are also some specific studies of NAFTA that may be relevant. I'll try to dig them up.

A final point, in the event that I'm not able to get back to this: One reasonable measure regarding whether trade deals tend to, on net, improve economies is to take a look at the history of such deals. In this, the longstanding history of trade deals has been toward freer and more open trade. You see this in NAFTA, but also in the push to create the EEC - a push that was accompanied by horrific claims that Spanish workers taking high-paid German jobs, et al. Residents of Spain and Germany seem to believe that they've all benefited from the deal, however, because they keep pushing for greater and greater economic integration -- e.g., toward the EU and then toward a unified monetary policy (the Euro). And Spain and Germany have each done tremendously well. Indeed, the current barriers to EU expansion are not about free trade -- that has already been accomplished -- but about who controls foriegn and monetary policy, as well as debates regarding culture and nationhood. (By the way, although a free-trade proponent, I'd probably be labeled a Euroskeptic in the current EU environment.)

If you want to mourn the death of manufacturing *jobs* in the US, attack the real culprit--increased mechanization. Manufacturing of *stuff* (including such mainstays as steel)is up. It just takes fewer workers to do it.

Leaving aside the issue of NAFTA, on which I'm not qualified to comment, this:

Appreciate that your feelings are genuine, A-Train, but the CW is the CW for a reason.

...has got to be one of the dumbest things you've written, von. Seriously. You may be right on this topic -- like I said, I'm not qualified to comment on NAFTA -- but in general, this is rubbish. There are myriad reasons why the CW could be the CW, many of which are entirely independent of the relevant facts -- as we've seen documented innumerable times on this august website alone.

[Possible, and entirely plausible, alternative here: the CW that NAFTA works is because the people who profit most from it are the people who set the narrative agenda, or friends with those who do. Lord knows that's happened before (viz. "death tax") and will happen again.]

I didn't watch. I wanted to best Hilzoy's unbroken streak.

Re russert: If the debates were a thread on Obsidian Wings, Russert would be the troll.

NAFTA, free trade: I'm pro-free trade, net- net, but the nets are close. Short word to the wise, however, to my fellow free traders.

The wholesale dismissal (I'm not addressing Von at this point) of the very real concerns about factories closing down, computer jobs going overseas, environmental degradation abroad, workplace and employee protections, product safety, etc, has been dumb, dumb, dumb.

Business people do in fact seek cheap labor, try to escape regulation of all kinds, and maximize profits. Resisting ameliorative steps because they might cost the taxpayer a little extra or violate precious ideologies is dumb, dumb, dumb (we're up to six dumbs already) merely from a policy public relations standpoint.

I thought free marketeers had human nature pegged and knew how to incentivize and disincentivize. Telling a factory full of lower middle-class workers that their jobs are kaput and that the American ecomomy is infinitely flexible and they'll be fine if they move out of their communities and that look, your wages may be curtailed for a good long while, but the great thing about our flexible economy is that you can shop at Wal Mart for cheaper goods, which are cheaper because of your willingness to lose your jobs and livelihoods, and by the way, I wouldn't let your kids chew on those cheap toys if I were you, and expect folks to say, you know, I see your point ... (well, I think we've reached the magic number of 7 dumbs)....

... my misfortune is good. The destruction of my job is creative and I should fawn over that creation like I do over the fingerpainting my kid brings home school, which I understand you'd like to privatize. In fact, when I get a new job, I hope I lose that one, too, for the sake of shareholder value and so that the Club for Growth's ideology remains unviolated.

Did we really think that people would kiss the ring on the invisible hand that just slapped them? Bite me (passive voiced anonymous biting)! Infinite dumbitude.

Someone, I forget who, said right here in a discussion regarding global warming (analogy in the works here), that folks in low-lying coastal areas will adjust if the worst happens and their front stoops are underwater. They'll quietly go inside, pack their bags, and rowboat their way to the bus station and move inland to start new lives, their homes now being worthless, unless the real estate is purchased by a submarine docking enterprise, but if not, buy a snorkel at Wal Mart up there on the hill and go with the creative destructive flow. Things happen. And trying to prevent those things from happening or maybe spending taxpayer dollars to blunt the hard edges of things happening is, sorry, against the rules.

Imagine, if you will, Godzilla rampaging thru lower Manhatten, crushing cars, knocking over buildings. Everyone is running and screaming in full panic mode, you know, human nature in its natural mode. The free rampaging reptile ideologue apparently expects to stand in the middle of the street and reason with folks. Hey, calm down. Get your stuff and move to Cincinnati which the gigantic reptiles haven't reached ... yet. Big angry lizards happen but they aren't angry at you. They're just doing their inexorable thing and if the big foot lands on you, take solace in the fact that the big lizard is working exactly as someone, it is not for us to ask who, designed it to work.

View your schmushing by big lizards as a tradeoff. Besides, big lizards make room for needed renovation and are fairly creative, despite themselves.

What did the ideologue expect? Everyone would stop in their tracks, stop screaming, shrug their shoulders and ignore the big reptile?


Well, until, say, the entire American legal profession (except the ACLU; they embrace low wages for other reasons) is outsourced to a warehouse full of low-wage attorneys* in Bangalore who can just as well write legal briefs in fake Latin on their Dell Computers and push the send button.

Hey, that lizard is doggoned heavy. Ow!

*All references to attorneys are generic, as are all references to reptiles. Please do not mistake generic references for personal references. ;)

My growing disbelief about free trade in the NAFTA style stems from macro issues. Let me lay out what I wonder about and see if anyone can help.

I know that the big picture for most American workers is bad. Real wages are stagnant or worse. Health care and education costs are up and up. Risk is up. Pensions are routinely looted and removed. Union membership is just barely on an uptick after decades of decline. Inequality is way up. These are all trends in motion well before NAFTA, but when I look at charts of their behavior in the era since NAFTA, I find no sign of relief in its wake.

Is the idea, then, that things would be even worse without NAFTA? If so, which things? There are times when that's the good you can get from action, and I don't mean to knock it as a principle. But neither do I ever see an explanation of NAFTA's benefits that takes the big picture into account. Anyone want to help out here adn explain why I might wish to resume my now-abandoned support for free trade?

William F. Buckley has died.

I agreed with him exactly zero times, but if you had the opportunity to watch "Firing Line", especially the conversations with John Kenneth Galbraith, you would have witnessed two witty, eloquent gentleman who knew what to do with language (if you carry a thesaurus) at work.

The callow hacks who work for his magazine could learn something about how to get over callow hackitude by examining the callow hack Buckley of the early 1950s with the later grown-up Buckley.


Note: I can be callow and can be a hack, but multitasking both at the same time is best avoided.

Who is ohn Thulllen? The Swedish me who can't spell, that's who.

"If you want to mourn the death of manufacturing *jobs* in the U.S, attack the real culprit, mechanization." etc.

There would be fewer attacks on either if the displaced workers didn't have cigar ash tapped onto their heads as they were displaced, generally speaking.

See, placing the jobs inside * * is the problem. People's livelihoods are not to be bracketed by quotes. Riots ensue.

;) without the qualifying * *

I know that the big picture for most American workers is bad. Real wages are stagnant or worse. Health care and education costs are up and up. Risk is up. Pensions are routinely looted and removed. Union membership is just barely on an uptick after decades of decline. Inequality is way up. These are all trends in motion well before NAFTA, but when I look at charts of their behavior in the era since NAFTA, I find no sign of relief in its wake.

Nobody said that NAFTA cured everything.

"Real wages are stagnant or worse."

By this you mean inflation adjusted wages. Most of that has been in the price of oil, which is mostly NAFTA-independent (with your next sentence to be dealt with next).

For the goods that NAFTA impacts, the prices are down, so real wage stagnation in general with respect to NAFTA and goods that it implicates comes out with NAFTA ahead. For you to believe that NAFTA was bad, you must believe that wages would be up, and that prices of NAFTA-implicated good would not be up enough to make up for that.

"Health care and education costs are up and up."

First you should notice that these are two goods that have absolutely nothing to do with NAFTA. Two things impact that. First, (as to health care) technology costs money. We have had enormous technological advances. Health care costs for any standard basket of goods have gone down. We just want the constant upgrading of technology. Assuming the government would allow it, you could easily afford a 1980s gold-plated health plan with 1980s technologies.

Second, please note that the things which aren't getting cheaper aren't things that are subject to NAFTA-style competition...

"Risk is up."

I'm pretty sure I read on washingtonmonthly that this has turned out not to be true. Income variability has increased slightly, but credit availability which was mostly out of reach of the middle class has smoothed that out.

"Pensions are routinely looted and removed."

So far as I can tell this has absolutely nothing to do with NAFTA. (And so far as it has to do with municipalities, it is a failure to save over the good years).

"Inequality is way up."

This has a lot to do with the return on education. Yes it is harder to be middle class without an education. But the main reason the assembly-line jobs are gone is mechanization. That happened in the 1970s--well before NAFTA.

"These are all trends in motion well before NAFTA, but when I look at charts of their behavior in the era since NAFTA, I find no sign of relief in its wake."

NAFTA wasn't intended to reverse those trends. It was intended to provide cheap goods so that those trends didn't bite as much. It did that.

Essentially it sounds like you wanted NAFTA to fix everything that was tricky about the US economy.

That is unrealistic.

Sebastian, what I wrote was this: Is the idea, then, that things would be even worse without NAFTA? If so, which things? There are times when that's the good you can get from action, and I don't mean to knock it as a principle. But neither do I ever see an explanation of NAFTA's benefits that takes the big picture into account. And it's what I'm asking. I don't think any trade policy cures all woes or destroys all benefits. I'm asking for a sense of what it is NAFTA's done that's good for the American public at large, particularly with the concerns I enumerated.

So you're saying that NAFTA couldn't keep workers' situations from sucking, but gives them extra stuff so that they can slide down to misery in more comfort thanks to some goods being cheaper? That's, um, interesting, but doesn't really command my support. But I do want to say that it's a much clearer answer than I almost ever get on trade questions, and appreciate that.

Did we really think that people would kiss the ring on the invisible hand that just slapped them?


"So you're saying that NAFTA couldn't keep workers' situations from sucking, but gives them extra stuff so that they can slide down to misery in more comfort thanks to some goods being cheaper?"

Again you're trying to mix everything together at once. NAFTA was certainly not intended to reverse the trend of mechanization.

It was not intended to make cheaper health care.

It was not intended to reward people for not getting education.

Do you believe it was? If not, why are you bringing all of that up. It sounds like you have general complaints about how the US economy functions that have almost nothing to do with NAFTA.

Yes, it was supposed to provide cheaper goods for US workers. You are so dismissive about that, but most people work in order to buy things. The things that have to do with NAFTA (and free trade in general) are cheaper. The things that don't have to do with NAFTA are expensive, yes. But thank heavens you don't have to pay twice as much for an awful GM car that will barely last 75,000 miles (and therefore that you will have to replace 1.5 times more often at twice the price) while you are also trying to pay for high-tech medical care and zoned-into-lavishly-expensive homes. You can come within spitting distance of the audiophile's 1970s $10,000 stereo system with a $300 iPod and $150 Shure headphones. Oh and it fits in your pocket. And you can get a perfectly acceptable coffee machine at WalMart for $15.

The things that don't have to do with NAFTA are really expensive.

The things that do have to do with NAFTA aren't.

The costs associated with NAFTA are small, unless you try to blame the entire state of things that came long before it on NAFTA.

Without NAFTA we would have expensive health care, expensive education, expensive housing AND expensive consumer goods.

So NAFTA only fixes one of those things. Why does that make it bad?

Also, NAFTA helped Mexico a whole lot without costing us almost anything more than speeding up the job loss by about two years for jobs which would have been lost due to mechanization anyway. And that happened in one of the bigger economic booms in recent memory, so the pain of it was largely mitigated by the amazing health of the economy at the time. We got to great help out Mexico economically (and got some pushes to make it more like a real liberal democracy at the same time) for very close to zero cost. That is fantastic.


"Income variability has increased slightly, but credit availability which was mostly out of reach of the middle class has smoothed that out."

Given recent credit turmoil, that isn't as anodyne as your statement implies. Debt has replaced savings.

In fact, it leads to risk being up as higher riskier returns are sought by investors to compensate them for looser credit standards.

Further, as the social safety net (pensions, social security schemes which permit investment in stock markets) is drawn to riskier assets to maximize returns, risk is heightened at least in the short to medium term. (Stock market risk evens out over time, as long as you live long enough to get there.)

Further still, loosened credit standards and completely unregulated credit interest rates have caused savings to plunge or at least have caused savings to seek higher, but riskier returns in riskier asset classes, ie. stocks.

Yes, these all are tradeoffs, many of them net positive, but let's admit risk is up.

Further yet again, many corporate pension plans are deliberately underfunded in good times and bad. And, if you look at how 401K plans are, generally speaking, misused, unused, poorly invested, etc, despite efforts to educate the investing employees, there is a problem.

"I'm asking for a sense of what it is NAFTA's done that's good for the American public at large, particularly with the concerns I enumerated."

NAFTA has nothing particularly to do with concerns you enumerated.

You seem to think that it does, or that it should have. Why in the world do you think that?

What does NAFTA have to do with health care costs rising?

What does NAFTA have to with education costs rising?

The funny thing is that your complaint about NAFTA is mostly about high costs in things that don't have to do with NAFTA. So you clearly understand that high costs suck for things you want.

Yet you are completely dismissive about lower costs on the things that actually have to do with NAFTA.

That makes no sense to me. NAFTA didn't promise to lower prices on everything. But it means that you can afford NAFTA-implicated things AND still pay for other more expensive things. Without NAFTA you would still have to pay for expensive health care, AND you wouldn't be able to afford anything else.

So NAFTA keeps prices much lower in a small area and has almost no effect in other areas. Why is that bad?

Sebastian, I do expect free trade to create some noticeable improvement in the quality of life of workers below to the top rungs, based on the rhetoric of its supporters. So I'd be looking for it to make them wealthier, or more secure, or something - to do something that significantly offsets the weight of complications that aren't very directly connected to trade.

By the way, I agree with you Sebastian, that developing economies are better off and that is fantastic.

However, if 4 billion volunteer workers from planet Xanadon't take the jobs from 1.2 billion Chinese workers, you will have 1.2 billion unhappy Chinese workers and what do you tell them.

Just an observation: We have foreign born doctors and nurses flooding the United States seeking higher rents and we have Americans seeking lower-priced surgery in India. Good for airline travel, I suppose, but stewardesses and pilots are having their wages cut anyway. Seems like a lot of inefficient coming and going to me, but I'm a simple person.

I also wonder how much the opportunities of NAFTA-style free trade have contributed to worsening workers' conditions by encouraging managerial folly. Managers who feel like they can dump more and more of this bunch of folks in favor of that one may be more inclined to unilaterally abolish the pension fund, for instance, and political parties getting larger donations from them may be less inclined to prosecute such things as evident fraud and contract breaking. As with other bad things, the trends there were in motion beforehand, but here the trade agreement may have a more direct role to play in worsening them.

I'd have to do a bunch of research to get any sense of whether there's anything to the hunch, though,a nd that'll have to wait for a day when I'm doing less allergy-driven puking.

(The last part being why I'm wandering off for a while despite the exchanges being really interesting to me. I'll catch up, promise.)

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