Skip to comments.Nobody's fault but Obama's
Posted on 03/08/2008 4:12:45 AM PST by Clive
Is it the responsibility of the government of Canada to assist Democratic presidential candidates in telling lies?
Apparently the answer is "yes" -- at least according to the opposition parties in Ottawa.
The opposition parties are slamming the Harper government for inadvertently leaking a memo that revealed Barack Obama's anti-NAFTA posture to be a fake. While Obama was trying to win union votes in Ohio by slamming the North American Free Trade Agreement, Obama's top economic advisor was quietly assuring the Canadian government that the candidate's words were just "positioning," not "policy."
For Obama, this revelation was deeply damaging. Obama presents himself as a new kind of politician. He regularly promises to tell voters "not what they want to hear -- but the truths they need to hear." On the evidence of the memo, however, Obama is actually a shiftier politician than Hillary Clinton. The Clintons are legendary for misleading voters with phrases that contain hidden escape hatches. On NAFTA, however, Obama left himself no such leeway. He is pretending to condemn something that he does not in fact condemn. Now he has been caught.
Some want to fix the blame for Obama's troubles not on Obama's own double-talk, but on the Harper government. Yet if anything, it is the Harper government that was victimized here. In Ohio, Obama indirectly made Canada and Canadian trade the villain of his campaign narrative. Then, after whipping Canada and Canadian trade, Obama thrust an uninvited secret on the Canadian government. When the truth emerged, as it always does, Obama's supporters denounced Ottawa for not doing more to protect his lie.
But why is it Canada's job to shield an American political candidate from the predictable consequences of his own amateurish duplicity?
It's important to understand that the Canadian role in this story was purely accidental and purely incidental.
Accidental , because Ian Brodie's obvious motivation in mentioning the memo was not to undermine Obama, but to reassure reporters about Canada's economic prospects.
Remember that Brodie -- Stephen Harper's Chief of Staff -- was talking to reporters about the federal budget. The federal budget rests on certain economic assumptions. If the United States were to tear up NAFTA, those budget assumptions would obviously be rendered instantly obsolete. So if Brodie had information suggesting that the Canadian economy was less at risk than the headlines from Ohio suggested, it's understandable that he would want to communicate that. How far his intention was from harming Obama is underscored by his scrambling all the details: He told reporters that it was Hillary Clinton who was sending out the reassuring messages!
More important, the Canadian role is almost entirely incidental.
Ask yourself this: Is it probable that Obama's chief economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, told the Canadian Consul General in Chicago -- and absolutely nobody else -- that the campaign did not mean what it said about NAFTA?
What about Obama's big backers on Wall Street? In the month of January, Obama raised more money from employees of Lehman Brothers than from any other company in America. Goldman Sachs ranked third, JP Morgan fourth, Citigroup fifth, Morgan Stanley sixth. Don't you think these investment bankers might also have asked for some reassurances that Obama was not turning into some trade-bashing troglodyte?
And what about the government of Mexico? They have a consul general in Chicago too -- do you suppose he maybe also asked for clarification from the Obama campaign?
In 2007, the United States as a whole did more than US$560-billion of trade with Canada, and almost US$350-billion of trade with Mexico. Close to a trillion dollars in total. Obama's own state of Illinois does more business with Canada than with its next five trading partners combined. This is a big, big set of relationships that govern the prosperity of tens of millions of people.
Was Austan Goolsbee free-lancing when he whispered his reassurances to the Canadian Consul General? Or was he executing a campaign organization request? If the latter, Goolsbee was the perfect man for the job. He is no campaign hack. He is a very distinguished academic economist, a professor at the University of Chicago. He is likely to serve as chairman of the council of economic advisors in an Obama administration, and perhaps ultimately at a senior level in the Treasury. Goolsbee's words would carry weight.
On the other hand, Goolsbee's words were inevitably bound to spread. As it happened, his words spread from Canada. Very likely, however, they could just as easily have spread from Mexico City or from Goldman Sachs or from Continental Grain or from General Motors.
Or from all of them at the same time.
The Obama campaign played a risky game of deception in Ohio. The risk backfired on them. That's nobody's fault but their own.
Obama, politics as usual. Only the name has changed.
Frankly, Mr. Frum, I think that makes the Clintons the shiftier politicians.