The Spectacle Blog

Trade Talk

By on 4.23.08 | 12:23PM

Brendan Steinhauser points us to this USA Today report on McCain's plans for hard-hitting free-trade advocacy in Youngstown, Ohio. From a policy perspective, it certainly seems his advisers are saying all the right things.

McCain, however, is prepared to argue the overall benefits of unfettered trade, aides said. "Protectionism devastates the economy," said Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to McCain.

In an economic speech last week, McCain said: "When new trading partners can sell in our market, and American companies can sell in theirs, the gains are great and they are lasting."

All true! But McCain often pitches trade issues with a tough, grin-and-bear it attitude, and I often wonder if this really works as political strategy. On one hand, it might be described as "telling hard truths" -- and we all know that's an image McCain wants to promote. But it might also be called "telling voters what they don't want to hear." Call me a cynic, but "I know it hurts, but it's good for you!"doesn't seem like a terribly compelling campaign message.

Of course, that doesn't mean he should drop the issue entirely. Instead, he might moderate his eat-your-vegetables approach to campaigning with a less dour message, positioning trade as an opportunity for workers who've lost their jobs, and pointing to the substantial economic gains and job growth the middle class has seen as free trade has expanded.

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