George Will

WASHINGTON -- This is going to be entertaining.

All the Democrats seeking to evict George Bush from the White House denounce him for ``unilateralism,'' meaning insufficient respect for international institutions and obligations. Now some of those Democrats may turn on a dime and demand that he defy an international organization, and disregard clear obligations freely entered into, by ignoring the World Trade Organization.

Last week the WTO said, for a second time, something that hardly needs saying at all -- that the tariffs the Bush administration imposed 20 months ago on imported steel are not justified by any demonstrated surge in steel imports, and are as illegal as picking pockets, which all tariffs do. As adolescents say when told something obvious: Duh.

Thirteen months after winning an excruciatingly close election, Bush proved himself less principled than Bill Clinton regarding the free trade principles that have fueled world prosperity since 1945. His tariffs were supposed to provide a three-year ``breathing space'' for domestic steel makers -- who have been on the respirator of protection for decades.

Since then various studies, not all of them disinterested, have reached the same conclusion: By raising the cost of goods manufactured from steel, the tariffs have cost more jobs than they have saved. Duh.

But most of the Democratic candidates are trying to do something no Democrat has done since the Civil War -- win the presidency by running as a protectionist. Once upon a time, Democrats understood that when Republicans protected, as they did for decades, American industry from the inconvenience of price competition from abroad, the result was higher prices -- a hidden tax -- paid by consumers. Today Democrats advocate protectionism, which they call ``fair trade,'' in the name of protecting what tariffs actually destroy: American jobs. The steel tariffs are, for example, a $100 tax on every new American car, and on the creation of jobs for autoworkers.

Bush imposed the tariffs to court steelworkers. There are 124,000 of them nationwide. But they are most important in Pennsylvania, which had 23 (it now has 21) electoral votes that Bush in 2000 lost by 204,840 votes; Ohio, which had 21 (now 20) electoral votes that he won by 165,019; and West Virginia, which has five electoral votes that he won by 40,978 votes. The steelworkers union has endorsed Dick Gephardt for president.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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