Hillary Clinton is in a bind on free trade and she knows it.
As Secretary of State she could not have been more effusive in her praise for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal that could tie together nations that represent nearly 40 percent of global GDP and one-third of all world trade.
“It’s fair to say that our economies are entwined, and we need to keep upping our game both bilaterally and with partners across the region through agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnerships or TPP,” she told a crowd in Australia. “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.”
The agreement she went on to say could lead to “rising standards of living and more broadly shared prosperity.” And those comments were just one of forty five instance when she spoke in favor of the TPP.
Lest you think that Clinton was just doing what she was told as an emissary of the Obama Administration, she had similar words of praise for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in her memoir, Hard Choices. In the book Clinton said the deal “would like markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment, and intellectual property.”
The deal, she went on, will be “important for American workers, who would benefit from competing on a more level playing field.”
But almost immediately after announcing her candidacy she quickly switched gears, deciding it was better to tone down her sentiments on trade lest she run afoul of the anti-trade elements of her party. In fact, to most observers it was clear that she was keen to use as many words as possible to say as little as possible.
It wasn’t long that labor leaders saw through the ruse and demanded that she take a stand. Still, Clinton hedged.
“I have held my peace because I thought it was important for the Congress to have a full debate without thrusting presidential politics and candidates into it,” she said at an event in Iowa.
Sensing that too wouldn’t be enough, Clinton began to encourage the White House to reach out to the progressive elements of the party, a move that still allowed her to reserve judgment on the agreement.
“The president,” Clinton said, “should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi, who have expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers.”
The move was still not enough to mollify her critics so she beefed up her rhetoric for an event later that same day.
“What I want to see is a concerted effort to see how far we can push the agreement,” she told a crowd in Burlington, Iowa. “If we push it far enough where it looks like we can do a better job, where we can have more winners than losers, then we can make that judgment. If we can’t, then we should make the other judgment.”
Unsurprisingly, her cringe-worthy effort to avoid saying that she would vote against the deal has served as perfect campaign fodder for her primary opponents.
“You can be for it; you can be against it. You’ve got to have an opinion,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said in an interview on Sunday.
So Clinton obliged, kind of. Last week Clinton said she would “probably not” vote for fast track authority–which allows the president to present a trade deal to Congress for an up or down vote–”at this point.” But she also made clear that fast track was “a process vote, and I don’t want to say that’s the same as TPP.”
Sigh. Clear as mud and wobbly as Jell-O. Then again, this type of maneuvering is pure Clinton, a last name that is famous for only saying what people want to hear, and then hiding the rest behind incomprehensible gibberish.