The average American probably isn't all that spun up about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but among Democrats, the 12-nation trade pact has become the subject of a bitter proxy war between supporters of President Obama and the Warren/Sanders wing of the party, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stuck smack dab in the middle. On Wednesday, Hillary weighed in on the deal, and tried to thread the needle between those factions. While she voiced opposition to the deal, Hillary made sure to get in a few kind words about the President:
Well, I have said from the very beginning that we had to have a trade agreement that would create good American jobs, raise wages and advance our national security. And I still believe that’s the high bar we have to meet.
I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the agreement, but I’m worried. I’m worried about currency manipulation not being part of the agreement. We’ve lost American jobs to the manipulation that the countries, in particularly in Asia, have engaged in. I’m worried that the pharmaceutical companies may have gotten more benefits and patients and consumers — fewer.
I think that there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but for me, it really comes down to those three points that I made, and the fact that we’ve learned a lot about trade agreements in the past years. Sometimes they look great on paper. I know when President Obama came into office, he inherited a trade agreement with South Korea. I, along with other members of the Cabinet, pushed hard to get a better agreement. We think we made improvements.
...What I know about it, as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it. And there’s one other element I want to make because I think it’s important. Trade agreements don’t happen in a vacuum, and in order for us to have a competitive economy in the global marketplace, there are things we need to do here at home that help raise wages and the Republicans have blocked everything President Obama tried to do on that front.
So for the larger issues — and then what I know, and again, I don’t have the text, we don’t yet have all the details, I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.
...I think the president has been extraordinarily effective in making as strong a case as could be made and I think his hard work and that of his team has certainly moved this agreement, again, based on what I read about it because I can’t read the agreement yet, quite a distance. But I do worry that we’ve got an equation here. How do we raise incomes in America?
The fallout from Hillary's announcement has been predictable, from Bernie Sanders bragging about how he was against the deal before knowing any of the facts, to the media and emoprogs accusing Hillary of "flip-flopping," but the most important question is how this will affect Hillary in the Democratic primary. On that score, she carried this off in the best possible way she could.
There will be some Obama loyalists displeased with Hillary's decision to oppose the deal, but she did it while praising the President, and more importantly, she did it without calling President Obama a liar or accusing him of attacking white womens. More importantly, her opposition will have no effect on the final passage of TPP, which is a political feature, if a substantive bug.
This will do nothing to get Obama coalition holdouts into the boat, but it certainly won't send any of them running to Sanders. It could hurt her if Joe Biden gets in, but her position also has the virtue of being favored by the Democratic base. It also sets her up well for the general election, where she can contrast herself with the Republican candidate on this issue, rather than agree with him.
On the substance, Hillary did undermine herself by weighing in before she's read the agreement, after she insisted all along that everyone should wait to see the final agreement before deciding. But those calling this a "flip-flop" don't really have much of a leg to stand on, given that most of the quotes they're relying on describe the potential of a final deal. The one they're really hanging their hats on is this one, from November 15, 2012:
This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.
Being the "gold standard" of U.S. trade deals is a little bit like being the gold standard of Canadian gangsta reggae. I'm still not putting Informer on in the car.
Say what you will about Hillary Clinton's arc on TPP, I'll take Hillary on her worst day over Bernie Sanders, who sounds like a complete idiot when he says "This is a conclusion I reached on day one.” Being against Obama from day one isn't something for a Democrat to brag about, it's something for Republicans to be caught doing.
For those who wish to remain skeptical, who believe this was all a political calculation, I say fine, but there's a reason people buy calculators. This trade deal is going to pass either way, but Hillary Clinton has managed this issue for maximum political advantage, and minimal political damage. That might not give the Berners much of a boner, but I'm much more interested in making sure that the president who inherits this deal is a Democrat, not Donald Trump.