The Spectacle Blog

Smoot-Hawley by Stealth

By on 5.15.09 | 3:03PM

Looking up from their particular circle of Hell, Senator Reed Smoot (R-Utah) and Representative Willis C. Hawley (R-Oregon) must be laughing.

They must realize that President Obama and congressional Democrats are infinitely clever Alinsky students, saying one thing in front of the TV cameras and then doing the opposite behind the scenes. Together, the Obama administration and liberal lawmakers have in a sense revived by stealth the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariff that exacerbated the Great Depression by encouraging other countries to erect trade barriers.

During the election campaign, after some policy fine-tuning and unexpected drama that took the campaign off-message, Obama begrudgingly conditionally endorsed free trade. Or so it seemed.

His statement came a few months after that bit of intrigue with economic advisor Austan Goolsbee, who now serves Obama in the White House. Goolsbee caused a furor on both sides of the 49th Parallel by telling the Canadian consul general in Chicago that Obama's anti-free trade rhetoric was just the candidate playing up to his left-wing base. Goolsbee said Obama's words were "more reflective of political maneuvering than policy," Fortune reported.

Then, after blasting NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) as "devastating" and "a big mistake," Obama backtracked. "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," he conceded to a Fortune reporter last summer. "Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," he said.

Of course Obama also needed to genuflect before Big Labor and Big Green so he added the potentially critical proviso that he favors "opening up a dialogue" with trading partners Mexico and Canada "and figuring out how we can make this work for all people."

It was enough to get most of his trade policy critics to back off.

And it was all for show.

Now we learn, courtesy of the Washington Post no less, that buried deep in the must-pass-right-now-or-the-Apocalypse-will-come stimulus package from February there was a hidden trade bill. (The stimulus legislation also erased the Clinton era welfare reforms, but that's another story.)

The stimulus package's "buy American" provisions applying to funding recipients have been denounced even by the loathsome Toronto Star (known in Canadian conservative circles as the Red Star) as part of "a plague of protectionist measures in the U.S."

Too bad, Toronto Star. Perhaps you shouldn't have endorsed Obama. The November 2, 2008 editorial lauded Obama's "fairer tax structure [that] helps working families and small business," and his tax hikes in some areas "to fund health care, education, infrastructure, green initiatives and the military."

Meanwhile, protectionism has come to America, and only now have we begun to notice.

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