The current trade debate is teaching us a lot about the Democratic Party. It is not a pretty sight, whether you look at Democrats’ political behavior or their ideological perspective.
Seven years of President Obama’s ad hominem attacks have degraded the country’s political debate. He insults liberal opponents of the trade deal, accusing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as he does with Republicans, of base political motives. “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else. And you know, she’s got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that. And on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny.” Obama’s spokesman kept up the drumbeat, insisting that Democrats didn’t know what they were talking about and insinuating that Warren was motivated by politics, not facts.
An irate Democratic operative writes: “Obama’s current contempt for liberals on trade reinforces a trend that leads to the worst election results for Democrats. For Obama to fire insults against liberals at Nike last Friday only adds insult to insult to injury. Nike is one of the companies most associated with exporting American jobs abroad to low-wage nations that often have abusive practices against workers. Is the president who says liberals don’t know what they are talking about on trade intellectually unaware of this, or callously insensitive to this, or so contemptuous of liberals he simply does not care?” Well, conservatives feel their pain, having been accused of rooting for “dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance,” war, the end of Social Security as we know it and “Social Darwinism.” Obama claims they put party above country. Anyone who disagrees with him, in his eyes, is guilty of bad faith or ignorance.
Stung by the accusations he usually hurls at conservatives, liberal Democrats cry sexism. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) jumped to Warren’s defense: “I think by just calling her ‘another politician. I’m not going to get into more details. I think referring to her as first name, when he might not have done that for a male senator, perhaps?” And pretty soon the National Organization for Women was piling on. (“I think the president was trying to build up his own trustworthiness on this issue by convincing us that Senator Warren’s concerns are not to be taken seriously. But he did it in a sexist way. . . . [The] clear subtext is that the little lady just doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”) Is the “war on women” being waged by the White House, or have Democrats become so accustomed to demonizing their opponents that they can’t engage in civil debates even among themselves? It does not speak well of the Democrats’ ability to persuade and lead. But it does portend a nonstop stream of gender bias claims in the 2016 presidential election.
On the substance, the Democrats have become the small-minded party of anti-free trade and retrenchment. Ironically, the part that lauds “soft power” is willing to undermine a major part of the soft power equation. As David Adesnik writes: “The benefits of [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] extend beyond economic opportunities. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter recently said that ‘TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.’ This is because Carter understands that the agreement is essential to the U.S. ‘rebalance’ toward Asia. Especially as shrinking defense budgets weaken the military component of the rebalance, TPP has become an even greater priority for policymakers.”
It is not a pretty sight, but it should cause some pause among media elites who pride themselves on intellectual prowess and technocratic expertise while deploring Republicans’ unreasoned arguments and personal attacks. Heal thyself, Democrats. A party that resorts to food fights and petty insults in lieu of civil debate is not capable of leading.