To America: Don't Trip on NAFTA Vote

Al Gore Stands Tall for NAFTA

Vice President Al Gore
Vice President Al Gore

Clinton After Signing NAFTA

President Bill Clinton After Signing NAFTA
President Bill Clinton After Signing NAFTA

Right off the bat -- before Ross Perot accuses me of some sinister plot to fool the owners of this country -- I want to disclose my position on NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement: I'm in favor of it.

The Congress -- and the country -- is divided on the merits of the proposal, with side agreements, that will, everyone agrees, have a profound affect on trade involving the United States, Canada and Mexico. Its approval -- or rejection -- by the House of Representatives Wednesday will have an impact heard around the world.

Gore/Perot 'Debate'

After Vice President Al Gore "debated" one-time presidential candidate Ross Perot on television Tuesday night, I suspect thousands, if not millions, of Americans thanked their lucky stars that they resisted voting for Perot last year. In fact, my guess is that many other opponents of the agreement wish someone else, perhaps Ralph Nader, had taken up the challenge.

The arguments pro and con have been debated and ballyhooed in all the media, so we need not tread over old ground here.

Over the years trade agreements have seldom caused the kind of uproar we see with this one. Few administrations have had anything like the battle that President Clinton faces -- and it's been uphill all the way -- to get NAFTA approved.

But that's not Clinton's fault! That should have been made clear when all the living ex-presidents went public with their support.

Decline of the 2-Party System

The real culprit here is the decline and fall of the two-party system -- the political system that has separated America from other countries that have been unable to achieve significant progress because myriad political parties put a serious drag on change and progress.

The two-party system puts a premium on leadership, allowing a president to take the American people in a direction he sees as best; after all, who has a greater stake in moving America forward? The founders of the country -- if not its owners -- set up the Constitution so that the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government have their separate responsibilities.

The president's duty is to lead the country in the right direction. Without the two-party system, the Congress is merely 535 individuals pulling in 535 different directions. Imagine that! It's a little like having the country run by co-presidents, or maybe the discredited Soviet Union troika.

Stay the Course

The responsibility of the Congress is to be certain the country stays the course (to use an old Reagan phrase) -- not to lead, and not to throw roadblocks along the path a president takes.

In treaties or trade agreements, or confirmation of appointments, the Congress should give the president the benefit of the doubt. Votes in opposition should be as rare as pay cuts in Congress.

Republicans virtually all favor the treaty; it's the Democrats that are split. Under the time-honored two-party system, now generally disavowed, party whips would have educated those party members opposed to the agreement, and approval would have been assured.

Sure, Congress should vote its conscience, but, remember, there's only one president, and the country can only go in one direction at a time.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Nov. 13, 1993. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

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Comments 4 comments

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

Good column. When you wrote it I was in Washington working as a political appointee in the Clinton administration and I was involved in the implementation of the labor rights provisions of NAFTA. As I recall the Treasury Department viewed labor rights and environmental provisions as if they were sand in a Rolex watch. Nevertheless, the Clinton Department of Labor and other departments did their best to assure that these safeguards provided in NAFTA were made as effective as possible.

Aside from NAFTA, I've more recently come to doubt whether the benefits of unalloyed free trade are all they are cracked up to be. Too often U.S. corporations and/or their contractors operate in China and other countries in ways that would be prohibited by OSHA or environmental or child labor regulations here in the U.S. Increasingly, I find it hard to see why workers here in the U.S. should be expected to compete with U.

s. corporations or their contractors who operate unsafe factories that are polluting the world's environment and atmosphere. It seems to me not unreasonable for an American corporation to export not only it's production technology but also its human resources, worker safety and enviromental technology.

Moreover, if free trade benefits the majority of American citizens by providing cheaper goods, it does not appear to me to be fair to visit so much of the costs and hardships on the American workers who lose their jobs or pensions or otherwise suffer due to unfettered free trade. If free trade is to receive continued support, new more creative and effective ways must be found to assure that the minority who lose their jobs or otherwise suffer are better protected. The GOP's refrain of retraining dating back to the 1960s doesn't cut it any more. Some form of job insurance may offer promising possibilities.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I appreciate your comments, Ralph. It was my feeling at the time that President Clinton would insure the necessary safeguards to insure our workers were not unfairly treated. However, I continue to think that America has an obligation to help other nations, such as Mexico, upgrade their labor standards. The Bush Administration and American corporations, such as Blackwater, will always take advantage of workers and the environment if they are not checked, but I hope that won't prevent us from helping to lift the unfair burden on workers around the world.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

We are on the same wavelength.

However, some say that Mexican workers haven't benefited much from NAFTA, and many American workers have suffered. One problem with the U.S. company operations moved to Mexico is that too many of them piled in to Ciudad Juarez, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and other border towns. This resulted in a migration of workers from the interior of Mexico and the creation of slums in the Mexican border towns. This was convenient because the American managers could live in the U.S. and commute to the maquiladora plants across the border in Mexico. Dis disinclined them to train and promote Mexicans to manage the plants. Some American companies recognized that the border was becoming overcrowded and began putting their new plants (e.g. Packard Electric Division of General Motors) in the small towns in the interior of Mexico and staffing them entirely with Mexicans from the manager down to the assembly worker. They kept the plants along the border and used them for training Mexican managers who then moved to plants far from the border. This was a big improvement.

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it a crime for a U.S. company operating overseas to bribe an official of a foreign government. In my opinion, it should also be a crime for a U.S. company operating in another country to employ children, fail to observe rudimentary health and safety standards similar if not comparable to those required in the United States, and to install pollution controls. Both the Democrats and the Republicans have resisted introducing labor and environmental standards into trade talks; however, trade negotiators of both parties always are eager to introduce intellectual property restrictions in talks at the World Trade Organization. To an extent this is understandable because enforcing worker health and safety and rights and environmental restrictions in developing countries is messy and hard to do. And there is some truth to the claim that American unions aims are more protectionist than altruistic.


Bob 8 years ago

Bill.......This one's over my head. Sometimes it makes sense and other times I wonder. We give this Country away to the highest bidder. All these Countries over in Europe ( I know Norway for sure ) You can't own a piece of the property or business unless you're a citizen. Our Constitution is for Americans or I really should say United States citizens so we don't get confused with other North Americans , Central Americans or South Americans.

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