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To America: Don't Trip on NAFTA Vote
Clinton After Signing NAFTA
Al Gore Stands Tall for 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.
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.