WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton's campaign, which is a guttering candle, has suffered a perhaps extinguishing gust of ill wind. Her principal strategist has been forced to resign from that role.
Mark Penn's sin was to be caught doing something sensible, surreptitiously. That is the only way Democrats can do sensible things regarding trade when their party is pandering to organized labor. Penn's downfall makes him a member of a species which many Democrats insist is large and about which Democrats theatrically grieve: Penn is a casualty of free trade.
He was freely practicing one of his trades, which is advising clients on how to deal with the U.S. government. To that end, he met with the Colombian ambassador to the United States concerning how to win ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement.
Although he simultaneously was freely practicing another of his trades, being a campaign operative, he probably perished for commercial reasons rather than political principles. Colombia hired him through the corporation for which he works, Burson-Marsteller. Unfortunately, his other client, Clinton, currently opposes the free-trade agreement as ardently as, presumably, she opposes the Red Sox -- for now.
Penn's actual beliefs about free trade, whatever they are, pro or con, certainly accord either with those that Clinton holds now or with those that she held dear back in the 1990s, when she was in the White House's East Wing acquiring the semi-demi-quasi-presidential experience that makes her just the person to answer the red telephone that, judging by her campaign ads, rings constantly in the West Wing.
She favored the North American Free Trade Agreement until she opposed it: She favored it back when she was a Cub fan, before she imagined being senator from New York and discovered, or remembered, that she had always been a Yankee fan. She opposes NAFTA and the Colombia agreement now that she is a presidential candidate, but her views might change again in a few weeks, when her status does.
Another politician promising to protect America from Colombia's economic might (an economy smaller than Connecticut's and one-43rd the size of America's) is Barack Obama, whose passion for "change" does not encompass changing his party's ritual of genuflecting at the altar of protectionism. Amazingly, that obeisance is enforced by unions that represent a tiny (7.5 percent) and declining fraction of the private-sector work force.
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