By Scott Tibbs, January 7, 2009
The North American Free Trade Agreement is a controversial policy. Supporters of NAFTA argue (among other things) that increased trade benefits American consumers though more competition and that free trade helps less wealthy countries improve their standard of living. Opponents of NAFTA argue (among other things) that NAFTA has encouraged the manufacturing sector to seek cheaper labor in Mexico, and has harmed American workers. I am a supporter of NAFTA and have been since Congress debated and passed it in 1993, but the point of this post is not to explore the public policy benefits of NAFTA, but to consider who gets credit for it.
Since it was passed, NAFTA has been linked to former President Clinton. This has drawn harsh criticism from some on the Left, including one person who recently stated in the comments section on HeraldTimesOnline.com that calling it "Clinton's NAFTA" will never be accurate by any stretch of the imagination..
It is true that NAFTA was initiated by a Republican President, and that more Republicans than Democrats supported the agreement when Congress voted on it. Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against NAFTA by a margin of 156 to 102, while Republicans supported NAFTA by a margin of 132 to 43. Clinton would have been dealt a significant legislative defeat in his first year in office had the Republicans in Congress not supported his position on NAFTA.
Nonetheless, it is an irrefutable, undeniable and universally accepted historical fact that President Clinton openly supported NAFTA, lobbied for NAFTA, and signed NAFTA into law. Quite simply, the statement that NAFTA was a Clinton policy is absolute truth. If someone wants to make the argument that NAFTA was a Republican policy, that would be a reasonable and historically accurate argument, one I obviously and very clearly agree with. After all, Clinton was opposed to the majority of his party. Nonetheless, NAFTA was also a Clinton policy, and the two facts are not mutually exclusive.
So why is it that NAFTA gets tied to Clinton more than Republicans in Congress. Some have argued that Republicans are attempting to "blame" Clinton for NAFTA for political reasons while ignoring the role Republicans played in getting it passed. In some cases, that is true. An honest historical account of NAFTA should include the fact that it would never have passed without the support of Republicans. However, is the fact that NAFTA is usually tied only to Clinton an example of dishonestly leaving out some of the facts? While that is true in some cases, that is not true in all cases.
One of the realities of American politics is that the blame/credit for policies implemented at the national level usually land on the President. Obviously, the President is the most visible and memorable figure in discussions of public policy at the national level. One person leads the executive branch while there are 435 members of the House and 100 members of the Senate, so it is natural for the President to be most prominently remembered as the primary advocate of public policy during his term.
While it is reasonable to characterize NAFTA as a Republican policy, it is highly dishonest to minimize the role that President Clinton played in supporting NAFTA. When it was stated as a fact that Clinton openly supported NAFTA, a poster on HeraldTimesOnline.com responses by saying (t)his is what we, in the reality based community, characterize as an "opinion."
Of course, that is not an opinion. It is a fact, and this individual knows it. That Clinton openly supported NAFTA is a fact documented by mountains of historical evidence. Claiming that a "fact" is actually an "opinion" is historical revisionism. In other words, it is a lie, and that means anyone who characterizes a fact as an "opinion" is a liar.