If you listen to the rhetoric of the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls, you might get the impression that there are no facts truer than these: President Bush plays too rough with those nice Europeans, and the Bush Administration--wholly owned by Big Business--turns its back while heartless corporations continually screw their workers.
So, when President Bush tried to help American companies by imposing surcharges on imported steel, some Democrats--as you might expect--criticized him. After all, the steel industry is not only business, it is big, as in big belching smokestacks spewing cancerous clouds that eventually end up absorbed in the lungs of small children and cute, furry animals. From the perspective of his opponents, this one move could be used to symbolize the entire Bush presidency: they could accuse him of helping his corporate fat-cat buddies get rich by polluting while giving the unilateral finger to Europe, whose steel suppliers were put at a disadvantage.
Shortly after the tariffs were announced, President Bush took a lashing from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. In and of itself, Krugman's criticism isn't surprising; a recent analysis of 2,129 published articles found him to be the most reliably anti-Republican of all columnists surveyed. When the Democrats go digging for dirt to use against Bush, they can count on Krugman to pick up a shovel:
Just a few days ago, some supporters of George W. Bush hoped that he would show his mettle by standing up to steel industry demands for tariff protection. Instead he capitulated, with a cravenness that surprised even his critics.
One might assume that, if imposing the tariff was bad, then eliminating the tariff must be good, right? Killing the tariffs could even put some polluters out of business. Surely that would be good! And if the tariff benefited businesses, then it must have hurt workers because--as we've all been told--the interests of workers are in conflict with the interests of business. So then ending the tariff must be good for workers. Right? Lastly, if the tariff angered Europe, and if we should base our nation's decisions on how Europe feels about things, then scrapping the steel tariffs should be commended as a saintly act of reconciliation with our erstwhile allies.
So when President Bush announced on Thursday that he was ending the 20-month-old steel tariffs, I was ready to watch the praise come raining down. For starters, the Europeans seemed happy. But I was shocked--shocked--to read what the President's domestic opposition had to say:
Democrat Robert Byrd, who holds the illustrious distinction of being the only former Ku Klux Klan member in the U.S. Senate, said the decision "shattered any credibility [the Administration] ever had". Given his past, Senator Byrd might not be the best person the Democrats can find to give lectures on credibility.
Meanwhile, presidential candidate Howard Dean--who believes that America's foreign policy decisions must first be rubber-stamped by the U.N.--thinks President Bush should have kept the tariffs, effectively telling the Europeans to take a hike. "The President's decision to lift the steel tariffs early is just another example of this Administration playing politics with peoples' lives," Dean said.
Bush-supporting-Republican-recently-turned-Bush-bashing-Democratic- presidential-candidate Wesley Clark chimed in, too, saying the president should "listen to the 2.6 million manufacturing workers who've lost their jobs". Should he listen to the workers, or should he listen to the Europeans? It's so hard to tell these days! When it comes to the issue of whose marching orders a good president should follow, the Democrats just can't seem to make up their minds.
Dick Gephardt, a candidate whose main appeal seems to be that he's not any of the other candidates, was sounding downright belligerent. "America needs a president who will not back down to foreign pressure," Gephardt said, clearly pandering to the Donald Rumsfeld wing of the Democratic Party.
Even union man Leo W. Gerard jumped at the chance to criticize the president. You may know Mr. Gerard as the head of the United Steelworkers of America. (His title is, in fact, President of the U.S.A., a fact that makes his rivalry with President Bush quite understandable; cocktail parties must be a real chore after repeated explanations that you're president of the other U.S.A.) After saying Bush "willfully ignored" the "damage to the American steel industry," Gerard explained that Bush was in a "rush to appease the Europeans". Heh. The man they call a reckless cowboy, the guy accused of rushing into war while thumbing his nose at the Europeans, who they say is too proud to ask Europe for help in post-Saddam Iraq...now he's in a big hurry to appease the Europeans. Gotcha.
Despite the obvious politicking behind these statements, it's comforting to know that the Democrats and their supporters have finally come around to the belief that the U.S. should act in its own interests, regardless of what Europe thinks. It's also nice to hear them acknowledge that, under capitalism, the interests of workers and their employers are often aligned. But I must admit, I miss the anti-corporate us-versus-them rhetoric. I always get a good chuckle when I hear politicians imply that workers would be better off if only there were no evil companies around to employ them.