In the debate over the Trans Pacific Partnership, we are witnessing something uncommon: progressives are putting a Democratic president on the defensive.
This is only a good thing.
The Republican base does this to their elected officials constantly. Their base is so feared that respectable politicians even kowtow to bonkers right-wing conspiracy theories. Democratic politicians rarely show any deference to the base and certainly don’t show much fear of that base.
That’s what we are witnessing with President Obama’s public tussle with Senator Elizabeth Warren. He is fearing a coherent and informed critique from the left.
This is only a good thing.
Issues of trade and finance are seemingly impossible for progressives to get any traction on, no matter who is elected president. Whichever party is in power, you can bet money that someone from Goldman Sachs will be heading up Treasury. And when it comes to “free trade” agreements that end up hurting American and foreign workers while making global corporations richer and richer — well, it was Bill Clinton who got us NAFTA and it’s President Obama who is pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The President’s call to fast track the TPP is supported wholeheartedly by right-wing Republicans, while his own party has slowly woken up to forcefully opposing the deal. Enter Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who heave been the most visible opponents of the TPP.
President Obama has seemed particularly rankled by the Senator from Massachusetts. After giving a pro-TPP speech at Nike the President said in an interview with Yahoo news that Senator Warren is “absolutely wrong” when she says the pact would be another bonanza for Wall Street.
(And, by the way, exactly how tone deaf are the president’s advisers on this issue — Nike, seriously? The corporation synonymous with global sweatshops–that’s where you go to hail the newest free trade pact? If a Democrat ever disagrees that our side tends to dump on its base while the other coddles theirs — remind them of this: The President gave a speech. At Nike.)
Senator Warren shot back this morning in The Washington Post:
THE PLUM LINE: What’s your response to the latest from President Obama?
SENATOR WARREN: The president said in his Nike speech that he’s confident that when people read the agreement for themselves, that they’ll see it’s a great deal. But the president won’t actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It’s classified.
PLUM LINE: But don’t you get 60 days to review it after the deal is finalized, with the authority to revoke fast track?
WARREN: The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done. If the president is so confident it’s a good deal, he should declassify the text and let people see it before asking Congress to tie its hands on fixing it.
If only there were some way to get Senator Warren’s ideas and President Obama’s exposed to the whole country so we all can decide who to believe.
Well, this past Saturday, consumer advocate and erstwhile presidential candidate Ralph Nader presented a modest proposal for via The New York Times:
[T]he president ought to debate Ms. Warren in person, much as Al Gore, then vice president, did with Ross Perot over Nafta in 1993. “A president can get away with his soliloquies when he stays on his throne,” Mr. Nader said by telephone. But if he is going to go after critics, he said, “then I think he is obligated to engage in a public debate that will inform the American people.”
That sounds like a fine idea. Mr. President, I voted for you twice and support this administration on many fronts, but on this we disagree. Do your base a favor and – instead of taking pot shots at us and the handful of leaders willing to represent our views — go toe to toe with Senator Warren, on national television. Hell, I’d even settle for the Clinton route and send Uncle Joe out to debate the Senator. It’s all good. Nothing to fear about an honest debate, no?
Let’s woman up and take Senator Warren’s ideas seriously. Debate her.
This would only be a good thing.