It Started With NAFTA

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It Started With NAFTA

Have you been shaking your head over the conservative Republican-left wing Democrat alliance that defeated the Bailout Bill? Look back to 1994, when Bill Clinton rammed the NAFTA enabling legislation through Congress with a narrow majority. I was sitting in the Gallery, and saw a fascinating political phenomenon. NAFTA was passed by a narrow majority made up of members from both parties, the corporatist Democrats (Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council) and the corporatist Republicans. Voting against? The populists on both sides of the aisle. The Representatives from blue collar districts around the country, populated by people who were divided by religion, by guns, by abortion, but united by a distrust, a deep and abiding distrust, of Wall Street and of the corporate elites who were so eager to take their jobs to Mexico, and then to China.

That divide has grown and grown, until today it defeated the bailout of Wall Street, despite the dire warnings of Congressional leaders from both parties. The conservatives who believe deeply in free enterprise, and mean it. Who do not believe that the government should bail out those who make bad choices. And the progressives who understand that Wall Street has no interest in building local economies in the United States, but is only interested in the quickest of quick bucks, driven by the lowest wage available worldwide.

So now, where does it go, this unholy alliance? Consider this: The progressives long ago gave up on socialism...they have embraced a sort of Adam Smith, national capitalism; local economies driven by local entrepreneurs. How different is this from the small town conservatives? Where do abortion, gun ownership, gay marriage fit into this equation? As distractions, which the Republican and Democratic leadership will try to resurrect quickly and decisively for the upcoming election. Will we let them? Can we imagine a new majority? A majority of economic populism?

Nothing is the matter with Kansas except our own gullibility.

Barbara Dudley

Barbara Dudley is an Adjunct Professor in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University. She is also co-chair of the Oregon Working Families Party, and a partner in Bethel Heights Vineyard in Polk County. She formerly served as President and Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, and Assistant Director for Strategic Campaigns of the national AFL‑CIO.


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