Robert Novak

An AFL-CIO delegation to Colombia in mid-February headed by Linda Chavez-Thompson met with Uribe, who promised to deal with alleged violence against Colombian labor leaders. But the Americans spent most of their time with their Colombian compatriots, who recited horror stories of persecution. After the visit, the AFL-CIO Executive Council announced on March 4, "Should it come up for a vote this year, we will mobilize the unions and the resources of the federation to defeat it."

Rep. Sander Levin, a longtime labor stalwart from Michigan who has become the vicar of protectionism as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Trade, has called Bush's decision to send the trade agreement to Congress "a step backward." That implies a step away from a bipartisan accord, but what the Democratic leadership wants is no action at all.

This attitude cannot be removed from the contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over who hates most the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At a Johnstown, Pa., town meeting last weekend, a questioner blamed NAFTA for local jobs outsourced to India. Obama had to politely remind the questioner that the treaty concerned Mexico and Canada, not India, before getting in his licks against NAFTA.

There are enough Democratic politicians embarrassed by protectionist sloganeering that they would be inclined to support the Colombian agreement -- were it not for labor's intervention. How many Democrats in Congress will qualify for a profile in courage by not heeding the AFL-CIO's dictates on the Colombian Free Trade Agreement?

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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