Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership this week. The media is portraying it as a big blow to President Obama’s agenda. But the biggest blow comes to Clinton’s already-diminished credibility.
In an interview with PBS’s Judy Woodruff, Clinton said, “As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about the [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.”
“I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the agreement, but I’m worried,” Clinton continued.
But it’s all bunk. Time and time again, Hillary Clinton has praised the Trans Pacific Partnership,
In 2010 she said that “we know that [the trade agreement] will help create new jobs and opportunities here at home.” Later that year she said it was a “historic chance to create broad, sustained, and balanced growth across the Asia Pacific.” In 2011 she praised the agreement’s ability to “drive progress on internal economic changes that will open more markets and make sure that any growth is more sustainable and inclusive.” In 2012 she said the agreement would create “rules for the road” that would “place strong protections for workers, the environment, intellectual property, and innovation – all key American values.” Later that year she called the agreement “the gold standard in trade agreements.” In 2013, Clinton said the agreement holds “great economic opportunities to all participating nations.”
Even Clinton’s memoir, which she sent to Republican challengers with an attached letter touting her achievements as Secretary of State, contained a passage praising the Trans Pacific Partnership. She wrote:
One of our most important tools for engaging with Vietnam was a proposed new trade agreement called Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would link markets throughout Asia and the America, and lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment and intellectual property. As President Obama explained, the gold of the TPP negotiating is to establish “a high standard, enforceable, meaningful trade agreement” that “is going to be incredibly powerful for American companies who, up until this point, have often been locked out of those markets.” It was also important for American workers, who would benefit from competing on a more level playing field. And it was a strategic initiative that would strengthen the position of the United States in Asia.
Now, just four weeks before the final agreement is released, but more importantly, less than a day after Bernie Sanders called the trade agreement “disastrous” and demanded that Clinton take a public stand, she announces that she’s against it? And she wants us to believe that this flip-flop is representative of her true feelings about the deal rather than a cynical attempt to lose more far-left voters to Bernie Sanders? Ha, yea right.
She’s trying to legitimize her newfound position by citing worries that the “pharmaceutical companies may have gotten more benefits, and patients and consumers fewer” and by expressing concern about “currency manipulation not being part of the agreement.” But neither of those arguments holds water. After all, the Obama Administration actually wanted more protections for drug companies, but reduced the length of legal protections when other participating countries balked. Second, currency manipulation was never going to be a part of the agreement because it was a deal-breaker for foreign governments who view it as an issue of national sovereignty, and Clinton knew that when she nevertheless described the deal as “the gold standard in trade agreements.”
But again, conducting this type of analysis is to assume that Clinton’s new opposition is sincere when in reality it’s nothing more than politics. As Ben Domenech writes for The Daily Beast:
From the perspective that assumes Clinton operates according to principles and ideology, the shift is potentially damaging. Vox, for example, headlines its coverage: “Hillary Clinton’s flip-flop on the TPP makes no sense.”
And it doesn’t, for someone who is a consistent, principled, ideologically driven politician.
But this move makes total sense if you understand that Clinton is none of these things. She is changing her mind on this, as she has on so many other things, based on nothing more than political pressure from her left and analysis of political trend lines. The media loves to talk about how GOP primaries pull Republicans so far to the right they can’t win a general election, but that’s what’s happening in real time to Clinton, who is locked in a bidding war with a Vermont socialist over the progressive base.
The question that Hillary Clinton will now have to answer–hopefully as soon as Tuesday’s debate–is not why she changed positions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but how, given her fluid policy positions, voters can know what it is they are voting for.