Last night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders participated in another presidential debate in Flint, Michigan. The debate was held in Flint to bring more attention to the horrifying water crisis the city is facing related to toxic levels of lead being found in the water. Though the debate, which occurred two days before the Michigan primary, dealt with water safety in Flint and beyond, a primary focus was on trade policy.
Hillary Clinton’s record on trade policy has continued to be a problem for her among Democratic voters – both in 2008 and today. Clinton strongly supported NAFTA while First Lady and defended it years after passage before turning against it in 2008. NAFTA has cost Americans, particularly those living in places like Flint, roughly a million jobs.
Clinton also championed China having most favored trading status and joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), while at the same time campaigning on ending exploitative labor practices. Not only did China not end its exploitative labor practices, but the trade deal with China that Clinton supported devastated US manufacturing and hurt American workers.
Rather than defend her record at the debate, Clinton launched a series of dishonest and misleading attacks on Sanders’ record. First she claimed, dishonestly, that Senator Sanders had opposed the auto bailout because he voted against the bank bailout, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In fact, Sanders supported the auto bailout explicitly and never opposed money going to the auto industry. He did oppose TARP, which included provisions that helped the auto industry.
Clinton also, in an incredibly misleading way, tried to tie Sanders’ opposition to the Export-Import bank to trade and jobs. The Export-Import bank is a corporate welfare vehicle, primarily for Boeing. There is little to no evidence that the bank helps create or preserve American jobs or has any real effect on trade at all. Trying to twist opposition to crony capitalism into opposition to job creation is quite absurd.
Of course, the point of former Secretary Clinton’s attacks on Senator Sanders was not to defend her own free trade record as much as muddy the waters and confuse voters into thinking there was little difference between the two candidates. That has largely been Clinton’s strategy throughout the campaign: relying on voters not having enough information to know she’s lying.
Nowhere is that dynamic more obvious than Clinton’s very recent opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Clinton not only previously championed the TPP, calling it the “gold standard,” but she was one of the leading negotiators of the deal as secretary of state.
It is also worth noting that few actually believe that if Clinton is elected president she will still oppose TPP. Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Tom Donohue has even gone so far as to openly state that Clinton is misleading voters and will support TPP if elected. Given Clinton’s record on trade and honesty, this seems like a reasonable assumption.