Clinton’s Political Victories Were His Biggest Policy Failures

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We often hear from pundits that this nation’s political situation would be improved if we could eliminate more extreme positions and enact centrist legislation. As president, Bill Clinton was known for being able to reach across party lines and enact just those sort of policies, but some of his biggest political victories have done significant damage to the United States. The mere fact that a bill enjoys bipartisan support is not proof of its inherent worth, and rarely has this been more evident than in the Clinton era.

Bill Clinton did not negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but he did take it up as his own and attempted to use it to score political points. His predecessors had been unable to garner the necessary votes to push the agreement through Congress, so the media lauded Clinton when he was able to guide NAFTA through with bipartisan support. The bill passed the House by a vote of 234-200, with 132 Republicans and 102 Democrats voting in favor. “Yea” votes in the Senate saw a similar bipartisan split.

Despite the support of both parties, NAFTA proved itself to be a disaster for the United States. The “giant sucking sound” Ross Perot warned of became a reality as NAFTA gutted our manufacturing sector and sent scores of middle-class jobs south into Mexico. Over the first 14 years of the agreement, the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and Canada ballooned by 691 percent. Illegal immigration also exploded as small Mexican farms were shut down by competition from multinational corporations. NAFTA may have been a political victory for President Clinton, but it was certainly not a victory for the American people.

Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law on December 8th, 1993 and immediately shifted his focus to including the United States in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The American public had acquiesced to the idea of free trade after the long debate over NAFTA, and passing the WTO agreement was an easier fight as a result. The agreement received support from both Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress; Clinton claimed another victory for bipartisanship and neoliberalism.

Much like NAFTA, the WTO agreement may have been a bipartisan political victory, but the long term effects have been devastating. We have lost over 3 million manufacturing jobs since 1998, with 1.78 million of them directly attributable to our trade deficit. Our industries have seen countries like China buck the rules set out by the WTO while the United States is held to a higher standard. This has allowed these countries to target our industries and put them out of business. A look at our solar industry today provides ample evidence that this is happening.

Bill Clinton is not alone in his responsibility for these bad policies. Presidents Bush and Obama have had the opportunity to overturn these horrendous policies, yet nothing has happened. Hundreds of Congressmen and Senators have voted for these agreements or failed to put forward legislation to overturn them when they proved damaging. If these politicians worked across party lines to overturn these agreements it would be a bipartisan victory to be proud of, but NAFTA and the WTO have proven that bipartisanship is not something to be blindly praised.

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