America First, NAFTA Never

by Patrick J. Buchanan – November 7, 1993

It’s Not About Free Trade — It’s About Our Way of Life…

“It may not be too great a flight of rhetoric to say that, at this crossroads of post-Cold War history, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot represent the cause of evil.”

Thus did the New Republic close an editorial begun on its cover calling NAFTA “the most critical vote in years…[which]…could define America’s post-Cold War identity. The nation’s economic health, it’s geopolitical reach, even its moral character are at stake.”

As the effect of NAFTA would simply be to eliminate, over 15 years, an average 10 percent tariff on a Mexican economy only 3 percent the size of our own, how explain TNR’s hyperbole and hysteria? How explain the anti-NAFTA rage of the populist Right? Answer: Just as the Battle of Gettysburg was about more than who held a town in Pennsylvania, NAFTA is about more than trade. NAFTA is the chosen filed upon which the defiant forces of a new patriotism have elected to fight America’s foreign policy elite for control of the national destiny. The vote on NAFTA will measure the power of a sentiment that has been running swift and deep since 1992.

Already this spirit of “America First has forced both parties to address illegal immigration, to back off the New World Order, to cut foreign aid, to get out of Somalia, to stay out of Bosnia and Haiti and to deep-six the notion of a New World Army, with U.S. troops permanently consigned to His Excellency Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Upon a balking Establishment this sentiment is imposing a new national interest-based foreign policy–compelling both Congress and the president to abandon any notions of investing blood and treasure on quixotic crusades for global democracy. Ideas maligned in the campaign of 1992 as “neo-isolationism,” “nativism” and “protectionism,” would seem– from the shocked recoil of the Establishment–to be carrying the country in 1993.

“Can this reversion to isolationism be arrested?” cries Arthur Schlesinger. “Or must we abandon the Wilsonian dream, forget the hope of an international peace system and return to the old sauve qui peut world?”

The New Republic’s fear and loathing is thus dead on. The neo-liberals are right to be alarmed. For the vote on NAFTA will reveal how firm a grip the internationalist-interventionist elite retains on U.S. public opinion. That its hold is slipping is undeniable.

Why does the Populist Right abhor NAFTA? Because NAFTA epitomizes all that repels us in the modern state. Though advertised as “free trade,” it is anti-freedom, 1,200 pages of rules, regulations, laws, fines, commissions–plus side agreements–setting up no fewer than 49 new bureaucracies.

Henry Kissinger is right: NAFTA is not really a trade treaty at all, but the architecture of the New World Order. Like Maastricht, it is part of a skeletal structure for world government. At its root is an abiding faith in the superior wisdom of a global managerial class–our would–be Lords of the Universe.

Contemptuous of states’ rights, regional differences and national distinctions, NAFTA would supersede state laws and diminish U.S. sovereignty. It takes power from elected leaders and turns it over to transnational bureaucrats whose allegiance is to no country at all. Though our Constitution specifically empowers Congress to regulate foreign commerce, Congress is not even permitted to amend NAFTA.

Under NAFTA, foreigners–Canadians and Mexicans, first–can inspect U.S. factories and impose fines on the United States. Such a treaty insults the memory of the men of 1776.

Why are we doing this? For love of money.

Our corporate elite is desperate for the investment guarantees Carlos Salinas has agreed to provide, so they can move factories and jobs south, with security, and to hell with the devastation caused to the communities left behind. “Merchants have no country,” wrote Jefferson, “the very ground they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.” Such “merchants” are the driving force behind NAFTA: they fill up the GOP collection baskets, pay the party bills, call the party tune.

In Thomas Sowell’s phrase, the battle over NAFTA is about “visions in conflict.” What, after all, is America? Is she just a “part of the global economy” or a beloved country the unique character of which must be preserved? What is American? A consumer or a fellow citizen? Is a worker a unit of labor, or one of the family?

The battle over NAFTA is also a struggle about what it means to be a conservative in 1993. Who defines the term in the post-Reagan era?

To “conservatives of the heart,” Even if NAFTA brings an uptick in GNP it is no good for America. No matter the cash benefits, we don’t want to merge our economy with Mexico, and we don’t want to merge our country with Mexico. We don’t want to force American workers to compete with dollar-an-hour Mexican labor. That’s not what America is all about.

Of late, some of our brethren of the Right have come to exhibit a near-monomaniacal obsession with economics, an almost religious faith in its ability to solve the crises of the spirit and the dilemmas of the heart. But there are higher things in life then the bottom line on a balance sheet, or being able to buy Hong Kong suits at the cheapest possible price. Community and country are two of those things.

“To lower the price of labor, our business leaders are willing to sell out not just the working class but the country itself,” writes Chronicle’s tome Fleming, “Where others see crisis, big business sees only opportunity. Is California swamped with illegal aliens? God, illegals work cheap. Are divorces and feminism tearing the American family apart? Wonderful, they’ll eat out more and women work cheap. Will NAFTA encourage companies to relocate factories to Mexico? Terrific, there’s no environmental regulation, and — as Hyman Roth would say — ‘these people down here really understand business…. ‘”

While NAFTA will sail throughout the Senate, it is in the House, among the newer members, that its fate will be determined. Had the vote been held the day they came back from the August recess, NAFTA would be dead. Since then, President Clinton, using blandishments and the tug of party loyalty, has been able to pick off, one by one, reluctant Democrats. Assisting are the Taco Belles of Carlos Salinas: all those ex-White House aides, Cabinet officers and trade reps bought up wholesale by Mexico City. Behind them stand the money-lenders of the Fortune 500. Behind them the foundation-fed scholars off-loading onto our op-ed pages their endless odes to “free trade.”

Will Newt Gingrich be able to deliver the House Republicans for Clinton? If he cannot, NAFTA is dead. And if NAFTA falls, the free trade myth will have lost its hold on America. Then, all things are possible.

That Republicans and conservatives should be marching in lockstep, behind Clinton and Mickey Kantor, to defeat the populist coalition fighting NAFTA, is astonishing. For true conservatives, NAFTA should be hemlock. It mandates $7 billion in foreign aid and loan guarantees to clean up a border mess created by multinational corporations who took American jobs south to Mexico. To make this bitter pill go down easier with his party’s Left, Clinton is promising a big new job-training program. Republicans get nothing.

Yet when Kantor boasts that NAFTA will prevent any rollback of environment regulations “ever,” when EPA director Carol Browner claims NAFTA has “teeth,” when Sen. Max Baucus hails NAFTA’s “iron fist,” when Rep. Robert Matsui says NAFTA involves a surrender of American “independence,” Republicans rush to reassure one another: It cannot be true!

“Americans like to think of themselves as a …practical people,” marvels Edward Luttwak in the ‘The Endangered American Dream.’ “Yet, there is one ideology that grips the American mind–the ideology of free trade. Elite Americans are no longer seriously churchgoing, but their unquestioning faith in the ideology of free trade is intact.”

“[T]rue believers in free trade are ready to sacrifice for the sake of the splendid promise of their ideal–jobs, businesses, entire industries abandoned to foreign competition.” What might be saved with but a pinch of protectionism is “irrevocably abandoned, sacrificed on the altar of theoretical beliefs.”

From Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt to Coolidge, the GOP was the party of industry. It supported free markets at home, protected by a high tariff wall–with low taxes and little regulation. The Night Watchmen State. This was the foundation of American prosperity, the formula that converted the small agrarian economy of 1800 into the greatest industrial power the world had ever seen by 1900, with mankind’s highest standard of living. But after World War II, Republicans lapsed in the old faith and bought into all the Utopian heresies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt whom the Old Right had fought to the last ditch.

We shipped hundreds of billions, foreign aid and bank loans, to Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, then threw open U.S. markets to let their products swamp our industries and kill America’s jobs. We fought two wars to contain a communist menace that threatened their security more then ours. We built a monstrous welfare state, just like Europe’s, then shouldered the burden of Western defense. When our allies begged off making comparable contributions, we were delighted to carry the hod. After all, we were the Superpower, the Leader of the West. Didn’t they always tell us so?

So, while we built the world’s finest spy satellites, ballistic missiles and carrier-based aircraft, they built the world’s best new cars, television sets and consumer electronics. Thanking us for our eloquent essays on the joys of free trade, Japan practiced ruthless protectionism, converting herself from a nation that made paper lanterns and cheap toys into an industrial power that challenges our supremacy in manufacturing and technology. Now Japan runs merchandise trade surpluses as high as $150 billion, while free-trade America runs trade deficits almost as large–and sees her manufacturing base hollowed out in the Rust Belt and Southern California.

“The golden eras of Holland, Britain and the United States,” writes Kevin Phillips in “Boiling Point,” “were marked by bourgeois patriotism and provincialism, whereas their decline . . . seems to have been characterized by recurrent attitudes: a diminishing concern for fading national industries, rising transnational values, support for minimal restraint on immigration, willingness to sell critical technologies overseas and the eagerness of domestic capital to invest in rival foreign economies.”

Exactly–and the latter sentiment is the spirit of NAFTA.

Once the GOP was an America First party of the full dinner pail that sought not a “level-playing field” but victory in the struggle for world markets and national power. Once Americans knew that international competition decides not only the fate of business enterprises but of societies. That is a long way from today’s “progressive conservatives” endlessly spouting their geysers of globaloney about an emerging New World Order, “waging democracy,” “the world economy,” “the necessity of NAFTA” and “the importance of GATT.”

“The defeat of NAFTA would be the first step in precisely the wrong direction–an American looking inward rather than reason,” wails the New Republic.

False, Naiveté’s defeat would be a declaration of independence by a new generation of Americans, a shot heard ’round the world that the Old Republic is back, that we Americans are, once again, going to start looking out for America First.

If we don’t who will?