Barone dissects the president’s foot-dragging leadership on issues that offend pals

Michael Barone‘s latest Washington Examiner column discusses President Obama’s unwillingness to show forceful leadership on issues that are bound to rock some of his base supporters.

The day before [Chris] Christie spoke in Trenton, the Obama White House officially delivered the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress for approval. That was the 986th day that Barack Obama has been president.

He could have sent them 985 days earlier; negotiations were completed in 2006 and 2007. Or, if he were concerned they’d be deep-sixed when his fellow Democrats controlled Congress, he could have sent them 274 days earlier when Republicans took over the House. …

… Democratic presidents used to lead on trade. John Kennedy’s major domestic initiative in his first two years was a trade expansion act. Most Democrats voted for it and most Republicans against, with disabling amendments offered by Sen. Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of future presidents.

Bill Clinton took the lead on trade, too. He strongly backed the North American Free Trade Agreement, an initiative of Mexican border state politicians including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Lloyd Bentsen, and pushed it through both houses of a Democratic Congress.

Obama chose a different course. He has held back on the free trade agreements and has put pressure on the other treaty partners to make further concessions. This propitiated his union allies and their Democratic sympathizers for a time.

But his State of the Union message call for doubling U.S. exports made it obvious that he would have to get Congress to approve the FTAs. How can you double exports if you refuse to advance measures that would open up markets to them?

Of course, now the unions and many Democrats are angry at him for not continuing to obstruct the free trade agreements. In the meantime, Korea has been signing free trade agreements with the likes of Chile and the European Union. That gives European exporters a head start over Americans.

So Obama has left his allies angry and his critics unmollified. Sounds something like the opposite of strong leadership.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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