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The List: Obama’s 10 Worst Ideas
Both John McCain and Barack Obama have many smart policy proposals, but not all of them are ready for prime time. FP looks at 10 Obama ideas and 10 McCain ideas that should have never seen the light of day.
The List: Obama’s 10 Worst Ideas
1. Renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement
What he said: “I will make sure that we renegotiate. … I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced.” —Democratic primary debate in Cleveland, Feb. 26, 2008
Why it’s a bad idea: Trade agreements take years to negotiate, and Mexico and Canada would almost certainly seek new concessions of their own in a new round. Obama is right to argue that more economic development in Mexico will lower illegal immigration; he’s wrong to think that bashing NAFTA is the right way to address the Rust Belt’s economic woes. Happily, since the Ohio primary, Obama has backed off his harshest criticisms of the agreement.
2. Opposing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
What he said: “And I’ll also oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement if President Bush insists on sending it to Congress because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements.” —Speech to Philadelphia AFL-CIO, April 2, 2008
Why it’s a bad idea: Although Obama citied antilabor violence, the murder rate for union members in Colombia last year was 4 per 100,000, well below the rate for the general population. The deal carries little to no cost for the United States; economists actually predict modest increases in U.S. exports. The upshot for an important ally in the war on drugs, however, is high, and consolidating Colombia’s commitment to open trade with the United States is a worthy goal.
3. Talking Openly About Bombing Pakistan
What he said: “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” —Speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Washington, D.C., Aug. 1, 2007
Why it’s a bad idea: Engaging in military strikes in Pakistan happens to be established policy. But, as none other than Joe Biden pointed out last August, “It’s not something you talk about. … The last thing you want to do is telegraph to the folks in Pakistan that we are about to violate their sovereignty.”
4. Sitting Down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
What he said: Asked if he’d be “willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea,” Obama replied: “I would.” —Democratic primary debate, Charleston, S.C., July 23, 2007
Why it’s a bad idea: Engaging rogue states can be a savvy move, and even the Bush administration has negotiated with Pyongyang and sent envoys to meetings with Iran. But sitting down with heads of state without precondition? That’s another thing entirely, especially when it comes to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As Carnegie Endowment expert Karim Sadjadpour told the Wall Street Journal, “Only two things can rehabilitate Ahmadinejad politically: bombing Iran or major efforts to engage.” No wonder Obama’s foreign-policy team has walked back its candidate’s off-the-cuff remarks.
5. Pushing the Patriot Employer Act
What he said: “When I am president … I’ll pass the Patriot Employer Act that I’ve been fighting for ever since I ran for the Senate—we will end the tax breaks for companies who ship our jobs overseas, and we will give those breaks to companies who create good jobs with decent wages right here in America.” —Speech in Janesville, Wis., Feb. 13, 2008
Why it’s a bad idea: British economists Willem Buiter and Anne Sibert slam the bill as, “reactionary, populist, xenophobic and just plain silly.” That’s a bit much. A little populist pandering is hardly a threat to the global economic order—the bill offers employers a small tax credit if they meet six conditions, including the probably unworkable provision that they keep their headquarters in the United States. It’s never smart economic policy to reward companies for placing limitations on their own profitable activities, but as The Economist put it, “Obama deserves a slap on the wrist” for this one, not a full-throated indictment.