Charles Krauthammer

     And what has been the Democratic reaction to the prospect of fulfilling Humphrey's (and their party's) great dream? Fear and loathing. Democrats today  thunder against the scourge of ``outsourcing'' -- American firms giving (what would otherwise be American) jobs to Indians and Chinese and other menacing foreigners.

     The anti-outsourcing vogue is part of a larger assault on free trade, which until recently -- meaning the Clinton administration -- Democrats had supported. Remember Al Gore's televised debate with Ross Perot, in which Gore demolished Perot's anti-free-trade arguments? Which makes the recent Democratic assault on free trade so jarring, never more so than when John Edwards and John Kerry competed with each other before Super Tuesday to see who was against more trade agreements with more Third World countries.

     Edwards boasted about his opposition to trade agreements with the Caribbean, Chile and Africa. Who would have thought we would hear a Democrat attacking his opponent for supporting a measure that would help millions of Africans to emerge from poverty?

     Unions are a powerful Democratic constituency, and Democrats are genuinely trying to protect workers from foreign competition. But whatever the merits of the argument, the effect is startling: a radical reversal of the older liberal vision of America as helpmate for the poor and suffering of the world.

     Interestingly, the Democrats have enough residue of this old vision that they cannot admit to having betrayed it. They pretend they are engaged in altruism. They say what they really want is for trade agreements to grant foreign workers the same labor and environmental standards that American workers enjoy. Why, this is super-altruism -- workers' rights carried far beyond our borders to the workers of the world.

     Unfortunately, the ruse is transparent. Everyone understands that imposing U.S. standards on Mexican or Chinese factories is a way to make them noncompetitive. They lose their one comparative advantage: radically lower costs. The factories will shut down. And their workers, rather than being helped, will be sent back to the rural destitution they had fled in hope of a better future.

     You can say, too bad. You can say, Americans count for more. What you cannot deny, however, is that the Democrats have given up the mantle of tribune of the world's poor -- precisely at a time when we have finally figured out how really to rescue them.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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