Linda Chavez

Hillary Clinton may be pulling away from the pack of Democratic contenders, but she's still playing it safe. She's quick to stake out territory that puts her in the mainstream of Democratic opinion, even if it means disavowing her own past positions -- or those of her husband.

This week, Sen. Clinton deftly danced around the trade issue during a debate sponsored by the AFL-CIO. To hear her talk about it, you'd think NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, which removed barriers and tariffs for products traded among the United States, Mexico and Canada) was a Republican plot to destroy American jobs.

In reality, NAFTA was one of President Bill Clinton's few genuine achievements during his eight-year tenure. Like all the other Democratic candidates, Sen. Clinton was eager to disavow NAFTA before the 17,000 union members gathered in Chicago's Soldier Field.

"NAFTA and the way it's been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers," Sen. Clinton said, a position she claimed she has taken "for many years."

Funny, I don't remember First Lady Clinton speaking out against NAFTA when her husband was in the Oval Office. President Clinton managed to get NAFTA through Congress with a lot of help from Republican members, but he was in office for almost half of the agreement's 13-year history. If there were problems with the agreement, you'd think he would have tried to fix them.

Just looking at the agreement's first 10 years, seven of which were on President Clinton's watch, suggests Hillary should be touting the success of free trade, not running away from it.

As the Cato Institute reported on the 10th anniversary of the implementation of NAFTA, U.S. exports to Mexico tripled after NAFTA went into effect. And there wasn't any "giant sucking sound" from jobs leaving the U.S. to Mexico, as Independent candidate Ross Perot had warned in the 1992 presidential debates. In those first 10 years, the U.S. added 18 million new jobs to the economy. Manufacturing output actually rose by 41 percent, compared with 34 percent in the previous decade.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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