Linda Chavez

Democrats' hypocrisy knows no bounds when it comes to free trade. The latest example of duplicity comes from the Clinton campaign, which was forced to announce on Sunday that chief strategist Mark Penn would be stepping down from his official post. It seems Penn had been doing a little moonlighting on behalf of the government of Colombia in its efforts to win a free-trade agreement with the U.S. -- something Hillary Clinton vigorously opposes.

Penn, who has earned around $15 million from the Clinton campaign for providing strategic advice, never gave up his other job as worldwide CEO of the large public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, which represents Colombia. He had promised Hillary, however, that he'd recuse himself from dealing with the issue personally. But then last week Penn met with Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. just as President Bush was about to send the Colombia free trade agreement to Capitol Hill.

Of course, the Clinton campaign isn't the only one that has been embarrassed on the trade issue. Earlier, Barack Obama got egg on his face when one of his economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee, told Canadian officials that Obama didn't really mean what he said when he was busy bashing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But the real problem for the Democrats isn't undisciplined campaign advisers -- it's the candidates' ridiculous pandering on trade itself. Clinton and Obama are worried that they might offend the protectionist labor unions that provide money and "volunteers" -- actually, paid union staff -- critical to their fortunes in November, whichever one of them gets the nomination. So, they prattle on about the dangers of trade pacts like the one President Bush is proposing Congress fast-track with Colombia. And they never let facts get in the way of their claims that free trade costs American jobs.

In the case of the Colombia agreement, the Democrats' criticism is even more outrageous -- namely that we can't sign a pact because Colombian trade unionists have sometimes been assassinated. Obama has gone so far as to suggest, "You've got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition." In fact, Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, has fought hard against extremists of both left and right in his country, and crime against labor leaders is actually lower than against other sectors of the population. Indeed, Uribe is one of America's strongest allies in Latin America, and he has had remarkable success rescuing a nation that was on the brink of anarchy a few years ago.

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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