Part 2—She doesn’t make it sound good: Friend, how much do you know and understand about the TPP—about the so-called Trans Pacific Partnership?
How much do you know and understand about trade legislation in general?
For ourselves, we’d say, “Not much.” But then, we have a ready excuse—we watch The One True Liberal Channel, whose hosts make very little attempt to explain such tedious topics.
In the case of the TPP, this insouciance produced an odd phenomenon in the past week or two. Famous hosts on The One True Channel were praising President Obama for his “best week ever”—and they were including the “important trade legislation” which had passed the Congress as part of that glorious week.
That trade legislation wasn’t the TPP itself, although at one point it wasn’t entirely clear that the talker Chris Matthews knew that. Still, the legislation in question was part of the process which may yet produce a TPP, and it was being hailed on The One True Channel despite its peculiar provenance, which went almost wholly unexplained.
How strange! In fashioning his best week ever, Obama had passed the trade legislation despite massive opposition from his own party. The bill in question had passed the House due to the joint efforts of Obama and John Boehner, a fellow who is normally ridiculed on The One True Channel.
As cable hosts presented the bill as part of that best week ever, they didn’t mention the peculiar vote counts which had occurred. In the congressional voting, the bill had been opposed by 158 of 186 Democrats in the House and by 31 of 44 Democrats in the Senate. These vote totals went unmentioned as cheerleaders served us our nightly porridge on the corporate cable channel designed for rubes like us.
Why would Obama support a bill which so many Dems opposed? What were the actual merits of this bill?
What are the potential merits and demerits of the actual TPP, which might emerge in the end? For ourselves, we can’t tell you much about questions like those. But then, we have that excuse.
Over the next two days, let’s consider the lazy way this topic has been covered on MSNBC’s flagship program, The Rachel Maddow Show. For today, let’s consider the way the program’s host described the potential “Trans Pacific Partnership” way back in early May, when we were all still young.
It was Thursday evening, May 7. President Obama had flown to Oregon. He was going to speak about the proposed trade bill the next day.
This produced Maddow’s strongest attempt, in the past several months, to discuss the proposed trade deal. Needless to say, she started her segment with some of her wonderfully whimsical humor about her own “fascinations:”
MADDOW (5/7/15): Here in the U.S. tonight, President Obama has just flown to the great state of Oregon.The president’s visit wasn’t about the owls, the urine or even the girlfriend scandal. Nor had those pointless events made Oregon an object of national fascination, though people like Maddow will often have a hard time drawing distinctions between themselves and the external world.
Nothing to do with owls attacking joggers in that park in the Oregon state capital. Nothing to do with that state’s Republican Party chairman running a side business in which he asks members of the general public to mail him their urine.
Nothing about the still inexplicable girlfriend scandal that drove that state’s once very popular governor out of office. Nothing to do with any of those stories. Nothing to do even with Oregonians being obsessed with the carpet at the Portland airport.
The president’s visit has nothing to do with any of the truly strange news stories out of Oregon over the past few months that have made the state an object of national fascination, or at least an object of my fascination.
Now, President Obama’s visit to Oregon tonight is because he is going to Nike.
Instead, the president was going to Nike. Maddow now explained why, and shared a bit of her political insight:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Nike. Nike’s headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon. Nike’s a very large company. It has about 26,000 employees in the United States.Maddow wasn’t making this “very controversial trade deal” sound very good. She described an “age-old dynamic which has killed off huge swaths of working-class and middle-class American jobs over the last few decades.”
But the number of employees they have overseas just completely dwarfs their workforce at home. Yes, they’re headquartered in Oregon and they’ve got 26,000 American employees, but they’ve got a million people working for them overseas, in contract factories where the pay and the labor standards are generally terrible.
And that kind of business arrangement, where even iconically American products get made overseas because it’s more profitable to have the work done in places with terrible wages and terrible labor standards, that age-old dynamic which has killed off huge swaths of working-class and middle-class American jobs over the last few decades, that dynamic, many people worry, will get even worse than it is now if this big 12-country Asia trade deal goes through, which the president favors.
And so President Obama, mark my words, clearly has something up his sleeve here, because he has gone to Oregon tonight. He’s doing a DNC fund- raiser there tonight. But he is going to Nike headquarters tomorrow and it is at Nike where he’s going to give his speech tomorrow about why people should support his very controversial Asia trade deal.
According to Maddow, “many people worry” that this dynamic will only get worse if this giant trade deal goes through. For that reason, she said Obama “clearly has something up his sleeve” in his trip to Oregon.
“Mark my words,” the cable savant said. Sure enough! The analysts did!
Why did Maddow feel so sure that Obama had something up his sleeve? As she continued, she explained. It had to do with Nike:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Nike is the poster child for why people are freaked out about that deal. Nike is the poster child for why labor and Democrats and people on the left and people in the center are opposed to that trade deal in considerable numbers.According to Maddow, Nike’s international practices made it “the poster child” for liberal and Democratic opposition to the proposed trade deal. According to Maddow, endorsing the deal at Nike headquarters would be like endorsing Keystone at the site of an oil spill.
So there must be something up his sleeves, right? This is, this is too obviously counterintuitive, right? It would be like him announcing the approval of the Keystone pipeline at the site of a pipeline spill, right? It doesn’t make sense for him to go to a company that’s sent all of its jobs to Vietnam to make a case for a trade deal that will make it easier for American companies to send all their jobs to Vietnam.
So it can’t be what it seems like. Something’s going on here.
As she continued, Maddow gave herself a minor out. She also summarized the state of liberal opposition to the proposed trade deal:
MADDOW (continuing directly): The president is due to speak at Nike tomorrow, and we will see. Maybe it’s all as obvious as it seems. I think that we should expect some sort of surprise announcement tomorrow from the president, just given the place where he’s going to be making that speech. The president is due to speak at a DNC fund-raiser tonight in the meantime.As she finished her discussion, Maddow sold us our nightly dose of “excitement” and “drama.” She didn’t tell us to “Watch this space”—although, as matters turned out, it was probably just as well.
And you know, this trade issue is a divisive one in Democratic politics. Some Pacific Northwest Democrats like the powerful Senator Patty Murray of Washington, she supports the president on the trade deal, even though she’s willing to buck him from the left on other issues.
Other Pacific Northwest Democrats like Peter DeFazio of Oregon, he’s against the president on the trade deal. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported the trade deal when she was in the Obama administration as secretary of state, but she’s now being much cagier about the issue now that she is running for president.
It was also an interesting consolidation of some of the loudest and most popular voices on the left side of the Democratic Party today, which is where that interesting dynamic is between the president and the left.
Today, President—excuse me, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for new populist economic policies from the Democratic Party.
Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio getting together. Hmmm.
So there’s interesting stuff going on, right? There’s a bit of a roiling going on in Democratic politics in general and specifically tonight.
President Obama is clearly going to drop something unexpected tomorrow on this big economic issue. Nobody quite knows where Hillary Clinton is going to land on that issue. Nobody quite knows where Hillary Clinton is going to land on a lot of issues as she keeps up her run for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama.
So there’s a little unexpected and sort of exciting drama in Democratic politics for once.
Unless we’re missing something somewhere, this represents Maddow’s most thorough discussion of the proposed trade deal in the past several months. She presented the most basic possible outline of the trade debate of the past several decades, with liberals and Democrats generally saying that deals of this type have “killed off huge swaths of working-class and middle-class American jobs.”
It’s very, very, very rare to see Maddow address such mundane concerns. We suggest that you gaze on those words, enjoying them while you can.
That said, Maddow's discussion of international trade was extremely rudimentary this night. Let’s be candid:
If you get your news from this joke-laden show, you have very little real understanding of this proposed trade deal. We’ll flesh that point out tomorrow.
Maddow’s discussion was rudimentary—but she’d also made a prediction. Once the joking was done, she had said it was clear that Obama had something up his sleeve in his journey to Oregon.
There was no way you’d go to Nike to announce support for a giant trade deal! “So it can’t be what it seems like. Something’s going on here!”
Obama spoke at Nike the next day. For better or worse, it was exactly what it seemed like.
On Friday, May 8, Obama delivered his speech. In Saturday morning’s New York Times, Peter Baker reported what he said.
Front-page headline included:
BAKER (5/9/15): Obama Scolds Democrats on Trade Pact Stance“The president's speech here on the sprawling campus of the sports apparel company represented his most expansive defense of his trade agenda since asking Congress to grant him negotiating power often called fast-track authority,” Baker further said.
President Obama on Friday lashed out at critics within his own party as he accused fellow Democrats of deliberately distorting the potential impact of the sweeping new trade agreement he is negotiating with Asia and standing in the way of a modern competitive economy.
With the cutting tone he usually reserves for his Republican adversaries, Mr. Obama said liberals who are fighting the new trade accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, were ''just wrong'' and, in terms of some of their claims, ''making this stuff up.” If they oppose the deal, he said, they ''must be satisfied with the status quo'' and want to ''pull up the drawbridge and build a moat around ourselves.''
''There have been a bunch of critics about trade deals generally and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,'' he told an estimated 2,100 workers at the Nike headquarters here. “And what's interesting is typically they're my friends coming from my party.
“And they're my fellow travelers on minimum wage and on job training and on clean energy and on every progressive issue, they're right there with me. And then on this, they're like whupping on me.''
But Mr. Obama said that he had no political motive for supporting freer trade with Asia. ''I've run my last election,'' he said. ''And the only reason I do something is because I think it's good for American workers and the American people and the American economy.'' And so, ''on this issue, on trade, I actually think some of my dearest friends are wrong. They're just wrong.”
Why was Obama saying these things? Why did he say that the giant trade deal would be good for American workers?
We don’t have the slightest idea—but then again, we have that excuse. Consider the chronology here:
On Thursday night, Maddow told us to mark her words. The president must have something up his sleeve, she all-knowingly said.
There was no way he’d gone to Nike to endorse a giant trade deal! De Blasio and Warren, she said!
On Friday, Obama spoke at Nike. Effusively, he endorsed the giant trade deal. He even said that some of his friends—presumably, people like de Blasio and Warren—were just “making this stuff up.”
The president had made big news that day—unless you get your news from the Maddow Show! That night, the program’s all-knowing savant and clown didn’t so much as mention what Obama had said. Nor did she mention his speech the next week, even after Obama specifically criticized Senator Warren, by name, over the ensuing weekend.
Tomorrow, we’ll see what Maddow did say the next week on her joke-laden corporate news program. But her viewers were never told about the speech Obama delivered at Nike. They weren’t told what he later said about Senator Warren. Her name wasn’t mentioned all week.
This is the way “the news” gets delivered on this joke-laden program. If we can say this without seeming snippy, it helps explain why we liberals are sometimes so clueless while Maddow’s so happy and rich.
Tomorrow: Maddow’s subsequent “coverage,” right up to the present