It is a welcome byproduct of this most recent venture in protectionism that the steel industry has substantially benefited from it. In pleading to extend the tariff, a spokesman for the industry pointed out that there had already been a consolidation; that the steel being produced was better and cheaper than it had been; that the labor unions were cooperating in lowering costs. The steel companies just wanted more time. But the WTO was not chartered to weigh such matters. U.S. criminal courts are not chartered to give offenders time to conquer their felonious instincts at home: Cool them off in the coop, if you've been caught stealing.
Unquestionably, the Democrats will do what they can to arouse fear and loathing against Mr. Bush. But they will need to train their megaphones carefully. OK to blast that message in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Not OK to sound off in Florida and Wisconsin and Texas, where the counter-protectionist guns were trained. And the message would have to be spoken out delicately in Detroit, which has been paying more for steel, making the U.S. automobile more expensive because of protectionist steel prices.
In the long run -- and the Democratic convention in August can be said to be in the long run -- the case against protectionism speaks for itself. The U.S. is hardly blameless in the matter of free trade. Perhaps one day the WTO will take a look at sugar. We pay as much as five times more per pound for it than we would if we let it in from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere at a market price. These things take time, but WTO vs. U.S. Steel gives heart to the free trade community.