Sweet VictorySusan B. Garland and Douglas Harbrecht and Richard S. Dunham
"They laugh that win."
--William Shakespeare, Othello
By any measure, President Clinton's victory in the fight for House approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement ranks as a triumph for his fledgling Presidency and the forces of internationalism. But look beyond the congratulatory whoops of White House lobbyists, and you may spot a few pained smiles from weary Clintonites. That's because the White House is coming to realize just how much political blood was spilled in the nasty and divisive NAFTA slugfest.
Although Clinton's win is impressive, the battle over NAFTA created deep rifts in the Democratic coalition. The bitter debate inflamed class and ethnic hostilities, pitted labor against management, and set New Democrats against their liberal brethren. Says Democratic pollster Alan Secrest: "It will take a long time for the wounds to heal." Just as bad, the protectionist and isolationist sentiments voiced in the debate could leave U.S. allies with continued worries about America's resolve to open global markets.
One permanent casualty of the titanic NAFTA war was President Clinton's image as a Washington outsider poised to shatter business-as-usual politics in Washington. Forced by members of his own party to wheedle votes with a raft of concessions, running the gamut from the petty to the protectionist, Clinton had to resort to the back-room dealing that many independent voters find so abhorrent. "By setting the stakes so high on NAFTA, they set themselves up for a lot of problems," says political analyst Kevin Phillips.
FULL-COURT PRESS. In the waning hours before the vote, the bargaining got down and dirty indeed, as Clinton put together a majority vote by vote and interest group by interest group. Five precious votes were won by a threat to crack down on Canadian wheat subsidies. A promise to shield U.S. textile manufacturers from cheap imports won four Southern votes. Florida Republicans Tom Lewis and Porter J. Goss were won over by last-minute deals to protect Florida citrus and sugar growers from a surge of Mexican exports. The offer of more money for minority business development got Representative Floyd H. Flake (D-N.Y.) to sign on. "I courted some of these congressmen longer than I courted my wife," says Treasury Secretary Lloyd M. Bentsen.
Despite the ugly horse-trading involved, the victory is sweet for Clinton. He struck a body blow against anti-NAFTA crusader Ross Perot, for one thing. Perot's legions of disaffected voters will remain a major factor in politics, but Clinton shredded the irascible Texas billionaire's credibility as an alternative to conventional political leaders. Clinton's momentum will also give U.S. trade negotiators a lift in the effort to conclude a global trade-liberalization pact and in upcoming efforts to open Japanese markets to American goods and services.
Clinton's immediate task, however, is to repair the damage done by the NAFTA brawl to his own support. After months of vacillating between traditional liberalism and New Democratic reform, the trade fight forced the President to join a coalition of Republicans and business interests against such pillars of the Democratic Party as labor, blacks, and environmental activists.
In the bitterness of defeat, liberals are angry. "Bill Clinton showed that he is President of Wall Street, not of Main Street," says Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), an anti-NAFTA leader. Adds her Ohio colleague, Representative James A. Traficant Jr.: "I think it's time for a third major political party in the U.S., because the NAFTA debate shows there's no damn difference between Republicans and Democrats."
And the rhetoric emanating from union headquarters is even more hostile. Clinton "screwed us, and we won't forget it," fumes William H. Bywater, president of the International Union of Electronic Workers. Although passions may cool after Congress adjourns, some labor strategists are threatening to recruit primary opponents for key pro-NAFTA Democrats in next fall's elections.
The new animosity could complicate the President's fight for his second-
year legislative agenda. Many laborites have always been cool to Clinton's "managed competition" health plan anyway. Union defections could weaken the grass-roots blitz that White House strategists hoped would counter the strong opposition to the Clinton plan from Republicans and moderate Democrats. Now, promises Teamsters President Ronald Carey, the White House "can't necessarily count on us."
Mindful of the threat, the Administration will move aggressively to patch up relations with the liberals. Clinton may appear before a labor audience and appeal for solidarity. "We will work very hard to build bridges," says White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III. Next year, when the Administration unveils Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich's plan to consolidate federal job-training efforts, the White House also may increase funds to help workers displaced by NAFTA.
NEWT PROBLEM. Even Clinton's newfound alliance with House Republicans could prove to have unpleasant consequences. In the end, NAFTA's margin was provided by a large bloc of House Republicans. In the process, the White House helped transform Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) from bomb thrower to statesman. That could backfire in future fights over crime, welfare reform, and the health-care plan. The enhanced stature of Gingrich, who is expected to become Minority Leader in 1995, will make him a more formidable foe. In the future, says GOP pollster Frank Luntz, "Clinton's got to deal with Newt or face the possibility of defeat."
Still, the Administration is confident that as the economic advantages of expanded trade under NAFTA become apparent, the dire warnings of opponents will be forgotten. "I guarantee we'll see tangible results from NAFTA before Bill Clinton comes up for election again," predicts White House NAFTA czar William M. Daley. But in the meantime, Clinton has an awful lot of wounds to bind up. And the tough part for him is that he'll have to start by ministering to some
of the main constituencies of a shaken
THE TACTICS THAT LED TO CLINTON'S BIG WIN OCT. 27 GOODIES GALORE The Administration promises Representative Esteban Torres (D-Calif.) that some border cleanup money from the establishment of a North American Development Bank could be used to help small businesses hurt by the agreement. The message--that lawmakers can get favors for a "yes" vote--sets off a vote bazaar. JULY THE GO-AHEAD Overriding objections from some advisers, Clinton tells his Cabinet he plans to push for NAFTA, a Bush Administration initiative. SEPT. 14 BIG GUNS COME OUT Clinton trots out former Presidents to show bipartisan solidarity for the trade accord. OCT. 19 BIPARTISAN HOOK The President assures Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.) that he'll "personally repudiate" any Democratic challenger who uses King's suppmrt of NAFTA against him in next year's elections. Clinton later extends the pledge to all Republican House members who vote "aye." NOV. 7 LABOR TIFF Clinton takes on one of the Democratic party's key constituencies, accusing labor leaders of using "roughshod, muscle-bound tactics" to defeat NAFTA. Pact opponents are furious. NOV. 9 ROSS GETS GORED Vice-President Al Gore goes after Ross Perot on Larry King Live. After the verbal slugfest, NAFTA support increases, while Perot's poll ratings drop. NOV. 10 THE PREZ GOES FOR IT At a press conference, Clinton shifts the focus of the debate from jobs to his Presidential prerogative to conduct foreign policy and to chart a vision for the country's future. In effect, he bets it all on winning NAFTA. NOV. 16 THE BAZAAR HEATS UP as Clinton clinches last-minute votes on the Hill with deals on wheat, textiles, sugar, citrus.
To continue reading this article you must be a Bloomberg Professional Service Subscriber.
If you believe that you may have received this message in error please let us know.
- In One Tweet, Kylie Jenner Wiped Out $1.3 Billion of Snap’s Market Value
- The Two Words That Will Help Get an Airline Upgrade Over the Phone
- Apple Plans Upgrades to Popular AirPods Headphones
- Snap CEO Evan Spiegel Got $638 Million in Year of Firm's IPO
- Los Angeles Cracks Down on Out-of-Control Hollywood Party Houses