By now, it is beyond cliché to point out the many ways in which President Barack Obama abandons his former positions when they become politically inconvenient. His reversal on free trade, however, stands out because it is the one reversal that faces significant opposition from within his own party, and specifically from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Recently Obama said that “Elizabeth is a politician just like everybody else.” That would, presumably, include Obama himself.
In 2005, then-Sen. Obama voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). He was proud enough of his vote to devote several pages to it the following year in his second autobiographical memoir, The Audacity of Hope. After explaining the pros and cons of the deal–thus showing off his policy chops, and his noted ability to articulate both side of an argument–Obama explained why, in the end, he had voted against something he knew was good for the economy.
“My vote gave me no satisfaction, but I felt it was the only way to register a protest against what I considered to be the White House’s inattention to the losers from free trade,” he said–a paragraph after explaining that President George W. Bush had, in fact, listened to his views.
In other words, Obama’s vote was about political posturing, appeasing the unions and spouting the rhetoric of redistribution. He also had to keep up with Hillary Clinton, who also voted against CAFTA.
Barack Obama is a hardened leftist. But on many issues, he merely believes whatever it is politically convenient for him to believe at that particular moment. In that, he is “a politician just like everybody else.” What makes him truly extraordinary is his habit of treating those who still hold his former beliefs as if they could not possibly be acting in good faith, as if they were as cynical as he.
Small wonder that even free-traders have a hard time trusting him with the authority to make a deal.