El Pasito NAFTA

For the March 5th primaries, the North American Free Trade Agreement had its moment in the sun – it defined the parameters and victories of the election, and forced two left-of-center Democratic presidential candidates to expose their stances on such deeply significant issues as job growth, domestic trade, and foreign policy towards Latin America. However, instead of applying their self-described candidacy “for change” to deal with the complexities of NAFTA in new and thoughtful ways, Obama and Clinton instead performed a flight-footed, anxious little dance around it à la pasito durangüense.

The pasito durangüense – a jumpy cowboy dance equally popular in Durango, México as it is in Chicago, Illinois - is more fun to watch, though.

The overall issue for the March 5th primaries was not just the standard political shape-shifting we have grown accustomed to seeing in place of honest dialogue, nor even the candidates’ suspension of judgment about issues of immense social and economic import to the Hemisphere.

It’s the fact that they can’t seem to step to an even rhythm.

NAFTA forces Democrats to scoot around almost every single constituent group of the Democratic party: blue-collar workers whose jobs have been taken abroad, Latino voters whose families are directly affected by immigration policy via Mexico and Central America, and white-collar progressives who consider their sort of neo-protectionist economic policies part and parcel of the more equitable, just society they expect the Democratic party to administer.

Some of these folks clap on the upbeat; some clap on the downbeat. What’s a well-dressed, camera-ready Dem to do?!

Agarra su pareja! If the two are pro-protectionist, they please their union base and alienate their business base. They also alienate the growing numbers of immigrant Latino union members, who by very nature of being in the U.S. favor open trade and economic relationships with Mexico and Latin America. On the flip side, if Obama and Clinton are pro-free trade, they will please their business base and alienate their union base.

There is no easy win here; they have to (literally) draw a line in the sand with this one. Because neither Obama nor Clinton can claim to fix immigration, public education, or healthcare in this country without fixing NAFTA. Politics, like many things in life, is like dance class – if you can’t do a single turn, trying to do a triple turn is really a bad idea…

If Clinton and Obama really lived up to their claims of being “candidates for change,” they would publicly announce their willingness to undertake the task of fixing what has arguably been a gigantic (elephant-sized) disaster for both countries. Instead, the Senators of two of the largest, most important states in the union seem to prefer to pretend like NAFTA is unintelligible, or as seemingly unsolvable as the murders in Juarez. Instead, they prefer to scoot along to its rhythm with a cowboy hat and a stomp to match.

Quebrala!

While Obama and Clinton might find dancing el pasito NAFTA thrilling, but they’ve got to remember that for a lot of people, dancing el pasito NAFTA is really not so fun at all.