Victor Davis Hanson

These days Democrats are not sounding very liberal. Classic liberals, after all, would support free markets, internationalism and the universal desire for constitutional government, while downplaying racial affinity. But the following examples highlight how far from these ideals today’s liberals are.

Campaigning earlier this year in recession-prone Ohio, both Democratic candidates trashed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Sen. Barack Obama advocated renegotiation of the treaty. And Sen. Hillary Clinton assured voters she had always opposed NAFTA, an agreement that was concluded under her husband’s administration.

But then a funny thing happened. A top economic adviser to Obama, Austan Goolsbee, reportedly made back-channel assurances to Canadian officials that such talk of protectionism was merely campaign rhetoric.

Then an even funnier thing transpired. Clinton's chief campaign strategist (who has since been “reassigned”), Mark Penn, reportedly advised Colombian officials of how to court votes in Congress to assure passage of a new free-trade agreement — just the opposite of Clinton’s position.

Despite such illiberal pandering, both Clinton and Obama know that a traditional liberal position would be to defend free trade that lowers prices and increases choices for poorer American consumers -- while helping foreign economies catch up with the United States.

Free trade isn't the only example in which liberal Democrats advocate positions that sound parochial and blinkered. Let's take an environmental issue. It may seem environmentally correct for liberals to oppose oil drilling in a small part of Alaska. But how is this prohibition in any way liberal?

Unless Americans are willing to accept a drastic reduction in their standard of living or can discover novel methods of conserving or creating energy, in the short-term transportation fuel will have to come from somewhere. And given our present prohibitions, that somewhere apparently means foreign oil.

In an interconnected global petroleum market, our energy appetites mean that drilling goes on at a breakneck pace throughout South America, Africa the Middle East and Russia. Yet do we really think that the Russians can protect their Arctic tundra better than we could in Alaska, or that there will be less pollution from oil platforms off the Nigerian coast than off California or Florida?


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.