You would think, therefore, that Democrats would be for CAFTA. Not so. CAFTA is in great jeopardy because Democrats have turned against it. Whereas a decade ago under President Clinton, 102 House Democrats supported NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), that number for CAFTA is down to 10 or less. In a closed-door meeting this month, reports Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put heavy-handed pressure on all congressional Democrats to observe party discipline in killing the treaty.
Arguing free trade is particularly tiresome because it is the only proposition in politics that is mathematically provable. It was proved by British economist David Ricardo in 1817 that even if one country is more efficient in producing two items, trade between two countries based on the relative efficiency of production is always beneficial to both countries.
Mathematics does not change, but calculations of political expediency do. After all, it was the Democrats who, when Central America was aflame in the 1980s, argued strenuously against Ronald Reagan's muscular approach of supporting the government of El Salvador and the anti-communist revolutionaries in Nicaragua. Democrats voted time and again against Reagan's policy because, they claimed, it ignored the root causes of the widespread discontent in Central America, namely poverty and hunger.
Their alternative? Economic help, not guns. In 1983, when Reagan made a speech asking for support for El Salvador's embattled government, Sen. Chris Dodd made a nationally televised response on behalf of the Democratic Party in which he called Reagan's policy a failure and demanded instead that we deal with the underlying economic and social conditions: ``We must restore America as a source of hope and a force for progress in Central America. ... We must hear the cry for bread, schools, work and opportunity that comes from campesinos everywhere in this hemisphere.''
There is no better way to bring bread, work and opportunity to the campesinos of Central America than with markets and free trade. To his credit, Dodd supports CAFTA, which represents precisely the kind of deployment of soft power that he was advocating on behalf of his party 22 years ago. Today, however, his party has overwhelmingly abandoned his -- and its own professed -- ideals.
Eighty percent of goods from these countries are already entering the United States duty-free, so CAFTA would have a minimal impact on the United States. It would, however, have a dramatic impact on these six neighbor countries -- countries that Democrats used to care about. Or so they said.
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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