Maureen Dowd: Hillary Clinton shifts with the winds on trade talks

Ducking and diving on trade deal raises questions about trustworthiness

Hillary Clinton. ‘If you want to be president and you shape your principles to suit the shifting winds, then how can people on either side of an issue trust you?’ Photograph: AP Photo/Mathew Sumner

Hillary Clinton. ‘If you want to be president and you shape your principles to suit the shifting winds, then how can people on either side of an issue trust you?’ Photograph: AP Photo/Mathew Sumner

 

It’s hard being Elizabeth Warren. Especially when you’re not Elizabeth Warren. Hillary Clinton had an awkward collision last week juggling her past role as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, her current role as Democratic front- runner and her coveted future role as president.

As secretary of state she helped Obama push the trans-Pacific partnership that is at the centre of the current trade fight. In Australia in 2012 she was effusive, saying the trade pact “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. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 per cent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

Now Hillary says she is unsure about the pact and would likely oppose giving Obama the special authority to negotiate trade deals for an up-or-down vote in Congress. As a future president, of course, she would want the same authority to negotiate trade deals that Obama is seeking.

But as a candidate pressured by progressives such as Warren and Bernie Sanders and by unions, she turned to jelly, shimmying around an issue she had once owned and offering an unpleasant reminder of why “Clintonian” became a synonym for skirting the truth.

It depends on what your definition of trade is – and trade-off. Hillary has vowed to be more straightforward this time about running as a woman, her position on immigration and her relations with the press (which are still imperious). The heartbreaking mass shooting in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Hillary said, should force the country to face up to “hard truths” about race, violence and guns.

Dancing and ducking

But even after all her seasoning as a senator and secretary of state, even after all her enthusiastic persuasion on the president’s trade bill, she can’t face up to hard truths on trade. And we have to play this silly game with her as she dances and ducks, undermining Obama by siding with Nancy Pelosi after Pelosi filleted the trade deal.

“The president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi,” Hillary said in Iowa last weekend, torpedoing White House efforts to lure Democrats back on board. In an interview on Thursday, Hillary slid around her previous support of the Pacific trade pact and said that if she were still in the Senate she would “probably” vote no on the trade promotion authority bill.

Obama loyalists were quick to note the irony that Hillary did not help Obama, even though he is working to combat the deep Democratic resistance spawned by the North American free trade agreement Bill Clinton signed as president.

White House irritated

The White House is certainly irritated with Hillary. Perhaps it will spur Obama to wonder why he pulled the rug out from under poor old Joe Biden, his vice-president, to lay out the red carpet for his former rival. As former Obama advisor David Axelrod said: “She’s in an obvious vice, between the work that she endorsed and was part of and the exigencies of a campaign. Obviously, her comments plainly weren’t helpful to moving this forward.”

CNN reported that Hillary had enthusiastically promoted the trade pact 45 times as secretary of state. Aside from the fact that Hillary should be able to take a deep breath and stick with something she’s already argued for, it plays into voters’ doubts about her trustworthiness.

If you want to be president and you shape your principles to suit the shifting winds – as Hillary did when she voted to authorise George W Bush’s Iraq invasion – then how can people on either side of an issue trust you?

Since she hasn’t sparked much passion herself yet, she may be frightened by the passionate acolytes of Warren and Sanders. And, given her own unseemly money grabs, she may not be willing to push back on primal forces swirling around the trade issue about unbridled corporatism in an era of stagnant wages.

But the greater danger for her is in looking disingenuous. At the end of the day, leaders have to sometimes step up on some issues that are not 80 per cent issues. Unfortunately for her, Hillary is not as artful a dodger as her husband. Trade is a sticky wicket for her. But the path to the presidency is full of sticky wickets. And being president is full of sticky wickets. So you have to try to say what’s true and what you actually believe, not just what’s tactical.

Surprisingly, I received a fundraising letter recently. “Hillary Rodham Clinton” was in large letters on the upper left-hand side of the envelope and above my address was the typed message: “Maureen, this is our moment . . . are you with me?” Not at the moment. – (New York Times)

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