Battlepanda: Meta thoughts on political pandering


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meta thoughts on political pandering

As an unreformed free-trader, I cringe whenever the presidential campaigns focus on Ohio, because of the inevitable NAFTA-bashing that arises. I'm in 100-percent agreement with Matthew Yglesias when he writes
I should also say that as someone who thinks NAFTA was a smart policy and an important-though-oversold policy achievement of Bill Clinton's administration, I find it kind of painful to watch. Hillary Clinton's husband's administration had a perfectly defensible record on trade policy and that is why she defended it in the past -- she ought to keep defending it now. Instead, we get these weird contortions from her and Obama pressing a very dubious line of attack that Clinton won't challenge on the merits.
But, of course, this is politics, and just as Iowa's importance in the primary race guarantees we'll never see the end of ethanol subsidies, Ohio's position as a swing state guarantees that we'll be treated to a good show of protectionist rhetoric every four years. Andrew Leonard at Salon sums up the situation well.
How the World Works is sympathetic to economists who argue in favor of bulking up the social safety net and making investments in infrastructure and education, rather than attempting to micromanage corporate behavior, as a way of addressing the inequities catalyzed by trade. But if Willem Buiter ran for political office in Ohio with a stump speech that included a lecture on how the winners from trade outnumber the losers and how "Bill Clinton’s greatest achievement as President was his remarkable and unstinting support for a liberal international economic order" and therefore Ohioans need to stop moaning about NAFTA, he would lose. He would be pummeled. Economists pride themselves on understanding how the world is. But doesn't that imply that their calculus include political reality? The political reality is that voters in Ohio do not feel as if they have benefited from a liberal international economic order. And the political reality is that the voters of Ohio may well determine who the next president of the United States is.
And, of course, if Tennessee became an important state in a presidential election, we'd see no end of pandering to the cotton farmers.

This makes me wonder: If I were in charge of arranging the primaries, and could somehow designate a handful of states as swing states in the general, what would be the least harmful states to designate as the states that get pandered to?

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