President Bush on Free Trade and Oil Imports

Those of us who applauded the Bush41 and Clinton Administrations for moving us closer to free trade might have been tempted to cheer the following passages from the latest State of the Union addressed delivered by Bush43:

We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy – or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting – yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people . . . the only way to secure the peace . . . the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership – so the United States of America will continue to lead … The American economy is pre-eminent – but we cannot afford to be complacent. In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors like China and India. This creates uncertainty, which makes it easier to feed people’s fears. And so we are seeing some old temptations return. Protectionists want to escape competition, pretending that we can keep our high standard of living while walling off our economy. Others say that the government needs to take a larger role in directing the economy, centralizing more power in Washington and increasing taxes. We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy – even though this economy could not function without them. All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction — toward a stagnant and second-rate economy … Keeping America competitive requires us to open more markets for all that Americans make and grow. One out of every five factory jobs in America is related to global trade, and we want people everywhere to buy American. With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker.

As I heard these remarks, two thoughts emerged. First – this Administration has had a dismal record on free trade. Secondly – let’s focus on “this creates uncertainty”. Indeed, there are those who do suffer economic losses from opening our markets to global competition. Since the President is recognizing the reality of economic uncertainty, one has to wonder why he is pushing his ownership society, which is essentially efforts to reduce the means to mitigate uncertainty – such as health and retirement insurance.

Later, we heard the following:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world … Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment . . . move beyond a petroleum- based economy . . . and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

Brad DeLong points us to the White House having to backpedal on this promise, while Kevin Drum notes that the White House continues to flip-flop on this issue. Kevin’s Political Animal colleague, Christina Larson demonstrates that the only way the government can achieve Bush’s promise is trade protection. So why do conservatives argue that George W. Bush is for free trade?