Nationalism, Republican and Democratic

Last week, a Republican convention delegate from Pennsylvania caused a minor scandal by complaining that there was a Mexican working at the American pavilion at Epcot. Mark Harris’s wife wrote on the couple’s blog:

During our time at Epcot we visited the different countries. It was neat seeing each country and the employees were from that individual country. Then we visited America… one would think you would find American employees. We were offended to find a person from Mexico working in America. Mark spoke up and told them he was highly offended after visiting the other countries and seeing employees from that country and then come to America and find a Mexican. He was very civil but his point was well made.

This earned a rebuke from ThinkProgress and from the Republican Party organization in Harris’ home county, as it should have.

It's not clear whether the worker Harris complained about is a U.S. citizen or not. Epcot frequently lists employees' countries of origin on their nametags, and the park employs many non-citizen workers on special visas. It's also possible that he is a permanent resident or a naturalized citizen. Either way, Harris's comments were offensive.

But let’s imagine that Harris hadn’t been complaining about a service, but a product. For example, he could have been outraged that Chinese workers made the U.S. Olympic team’s uniforms. Maybe, instead of expressing a “very civil” objection, he could have called for those uniforms to be burned.

Instead of being rebuked by both sides, Harris could be the leader of the Senate Democratic caucus.

This is the odd double standard about nationalist economic rhetoric. Complaining about companies that employ foreign workers, or workers of foreign origin, here in the U.S. is considered offensive. But complaining about companies doing so abroad is fair game -- even though foreigners in foreign lands tend to be poorer than Americans of foreign descent, and even more in need of the job opportunities brought by the global economy.

Last night, former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland gave a speech that was wall-to-wall economic nationalism, filled with attacks on Romney for investing in global businesses:

To him, all profits are created equal, whether made on our shores or off. That's why companies Romney invested in were dubbed "outsourcing pioneers." Our nation was built by pioneers -- pioneers who accepted untold risks in pursuit of freedom, not by pioneers seeking offshore profits at the expense of American workers here at home.

Let’s be clear: This is distinct from the claim that Mitt Romney used tax strategies to shift U.S profits abroad on paper to avoid U.S. taxes. Strickland is attacking Romney for actually doing business abroad. Why is Strickland’s contention that Romney should have employed Americans instead of foreigners any less offensive than Harris’s insistence that Disney should do so?

The answer is that it shouldn’t be. But the double standard means that politicians get away with nationalistic rhetoric on trade but not on immigration -- and therefore that Democrats get away with it more than Republicans.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

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