Some are surprised see such fervent support from Republicans in Congress for giving President Obama — or, “King” Obama as some conservative pundits have called him — more authority to ram through “a landmark trade deal,” which is said to be “Obama’s biggest second-term legislative priority.”
But, to anyone possessing a modicum of insight, it is not surprising in the least: Republicans have been quite explicit in their conformity to the wants and needs of Big Business, so it should come as any great surprise that they are supporting a trade deal which is also supported by massive corporations like Nike and General Electric. Their interests align perfectly.
Others have noted, some with a sense of indignity, the backlash President Obama has received from his “fellow Democrats.”
A headline in The New York Times is quite telling:
This comes after, in the words of a recent piece in Politico,
The House on Friday dealt a staggering blow to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, as Democrats turned en masse against the president just hours after he made a direct appeal to salvage a centerpiece of his second-term platform.
The vote on a measure titled Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) was 126-302.
The significance was that, because the TAA was part of a package deal, the following vote for the TPA (219-211), the other measure in the package, “was largely for show, because enactment of TPA is contingent on approval of TAA.”
This is crucial because,
The aid package needed to pass in order to enact companion legislation that would give Obama fast-track trade authority to complete the sweeping, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
So, progression in the TPP negotiations have slowed once more, this time in the House, after previously catching a brief snag in the Senate.
A cynic would say that this is a political stunt by the Democrats, allowing them to show their rebellious and populous sides, and that they will eventually vote in favor of the “trade” package with time and minor adjustments.
Whether this vote is a sign that the Democrats have decided to work for the people rather than for Big Business, or merely a political rebellion, remains to be seen.
However, even more striking are some of the mainstream media’s reactions to these events.
Much thoughtful analysis of potential “trade” initiatives has been directed toward discussions about how the Democrats have “desert[ed] their president,” rather than about the mass popular opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which are being withheld from public scrutiny, despite the fact that a trade deal of this magnitude would have an enormous impact on millions of workers.
Backlash from Democrats against the TPP is often framed as a “setback” for President Obama, and a disappointment for those who support “free trade,” rather than a victory for the people who are being left out of the picture entirely.
There is something strangely totalitarian about this approach: President Obama was unable to convince enough Democrats to vote against the desires of their constituents, and this is viewed as a “defeat,” a disappointment and a sign of “dysfunction.” Very troubling.
Is “loyalty” to the President is more important than “loyalty” to the people? Are Democrats are supposed to fall in line obediently and not ask any questions, even when the interests of the people they represent are at risk?
Further, are their actions really causing “dysfunction” in Washington?
On the contrary, I would argue that recent events are a rare, flickering glimmer of functionality, not “dysfunction.”
From the perspective of anyone who cares about democracy, the fact that dissident voices, such as those of the labor movement, are apparently having an impact on members of Congress is encouraging.
As Russell Berman, writing for The Atlantic, put it:
House Democrats may have cast the fatal votes that killed President Obama’s trade agenda on Friday morning, but the party responsible for its demise was a coalition whose numbers have diminished for decades and whose political clout has been questioned: the American labor movement.
Perhaps we should be concerned with the fact that the president is attempting to ram through a deal without the support of the people. Of course, it is impossible to have the support of the people when the people, who the president is supposed to be serving, have miniscule knowledge of what the deal offers (or what it plans to take away).
In a functioning democracy, President Obama and those supporting the TPP and other such trade deals would encourage a lively debate. They would engage in conversation with prominent voices like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, instead of denouncing them offhand. They would invite members of labor and environmental groups to discuss, publicly, the issues we face.
Instead, we are supposed to trust our leader and stay quiet, as Peter Baker and Jennifer Steinhauer lament in The New York Times that the Democrats now have to deal with “a narrative of their party divided and in disarray.”
We should be concerned that significant portions of the government have deserted the people; that is the real threat, not a diversion from petty partisan “loyalty.”
It is hard to be loyal to a President who does not return the favor by giving the population a chance to be heard on issues as important as these. Stopping the progression of this trade deal is a small victory for democracy, and for those who fight for it, although the fight is far from over.