Barack Obama, Free Trader?

Reacting to threats of a trade war by the European Union and others, and reminded of how the Smoot-Hawley tariff helped trigger the Great Depression, President Obama suggested in interviews today that “buy American” provisions should be deleted from the Democrats’ pork legislation:

“I think we need to make sure that any provisions that are in there are not going to trigger a trade war,” he told TV network ABC.

In another interview with Fox News, Mr Obama said he wanted “to see what kind of language we can work on this issue”.

“I think it would be a mistake though, at a time when worldwide trade is declining, for us to start sending a message that somehow we’re just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade,” he said.

It will be a good thing if the “buy American” language is removed, but one wonders where Obama has been until now. Did he not know that protectionist measures were being included in legislation that was drafted exclusively by his party? If he knew it was there, did he agree with the protectionism, or was he unable to influence Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? Why is he only now, in response to threats from our allies that American companies will be excluded from competing for business overseas, supporting free trade?

The most charitable interpretation is that this is just one more instance of the Obama administration not having its act together.

UPDATE: A reader reminds us of the time, during the campaign, when Obama was talking like a protectionist to pick up votes in the Midwestern states, while his representative was assuring Canadian officials that he didn’t really mean it. One theme that seems to have emerged with Obama is that he is generally lying; the key question is, to whom? It looks now as though he was lying to those Midwestern voters, and his representative was telling the truth to the Canadians. But maybe only because there was so much push-back, from around the world, to the Dems’ ill-advised “buy American” clauses.

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