May 23, 2001
Most conservatives are so happy that we now have a President who
has restored dignity to the White House. We are pleased that he brings
a moral dimension to his actions and isn't squeamish about
acknowledging his religious faith.
But it was distressing that George W. Bush's recent remarks to the
Council of the Americas went over the line. He proclaimed that "open
trade is not just an economic opportunity, it is a moral imperative."
Sorry, Mr. President, you have it backwards. Open or free trade
may be an economic opportunity (for some), but it certainly is not a
The Bible does not instruct us on free trade and it's not one of
the Ten Commandments. Jesus did not tell us to follow Him along the
road to free trade.
Calling free trade "a moral imperative" is a sly semantic attempt
to cast those who oppose free trade into exterior darkness where there
is weeping and gnashing of teeth. No one gave our President authority
to sweep out of the temple those who espouse what he calls "a new kind
Nor is there anything in the United States Constitution that
requires us to support free trade and to abhor protectionism. In fact,
protectionism was the economic system believed in and practiced by the
framers of our Constitution.
Protective tariffs were the principal source of revenue for our
Federal Government from its beginning in 1789 until the passage of the
Sixteenth Amendment, which created the federal income tax, in 1913.
Were all those public officials during those hundred plus years remiss
in not adhering to a "moral obligation" of free trade? Hardly.
The final paragraph in George W. Bush's recent speech exhorted his
audience of non-elected diplomats, assembled as the Council of the
Americas, to "help to bring sanity to the United States Congress."
It's bad enough that President Bush cast those who oppose free trade
into limbo with those who lack morality, but it's downright insulting
that he labels them as lacking sanity.
Everyone present understood that "sanity" in the President's
lexicon referred to passage of the U.S. Trade Promotion Authority bill,
known as Fast Track, which Bush urged in his May 10 letter to Congress.
That bill would surrender to the President Congress's explicit
constitutional power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations."
Free trade and Fast Track are issues that, in one way or another,
touch the lives of most Americans. They deserve to be debated as the
economic and national security issues that they are, not by name-calling.
The arguments the President offered for free trade were that it
"creates jobs for the unemployed," pays "for clean air and water," and
promotes "democracy ... in good time." But all those benefits are for
foreign countries, not the United States.
President Bush has just demonstrated how he would use Fast Track
by the way he is currently implementing NAFTA (North American Free
Trade Agreement) to advantage Mexico and disadvantage Americans. The
Administration announced this month that it will allow Mexican trucking
companies to operate on U.S. highways without auditing their safety
practices for up to 18 months.
How many cheaters do you think would appear if IRS announced that
it wouldn't audit any tax returns filed in the next 18 months? In the
name of free trade, would Americans accept not checking for foot-and-mouth disease for the next 18 months?
Some 14,000 Mexican trucks have been crossing the border every day
but have so far been limited to a narrow region along the border. The
Bush Administration will now allow them to operate across our entire
The failure of Mexican trucks to meet U.S. standards for safety,
emissions, tires, brakes, age and drug and alcohol use of drivers, and
insurance coverage is common knowledge. Only about one percent of
Mexican trucks are inspected at the border and, of those, at least 30
percent fail to meet our standards.
Why should Mexican trucks have a free ride to escape regulations
that U.S. trucks must obey? Furthermore, it's anybody's guess how
many illegal aliens and illegal drugs are concealed in the 99 percent
of uninspected Mexican trucks.
Another paragraph in President Bush's speech seems just as out of
touch with reality. He said, "A recent summit in Quebec symbolized the
new reality in our hemisphere, a unity of shared values, shared culture
and shared trade."
President Bush's speechwriters should know that there is less
reality of shared culture in Quebec than almost any place in the
Western Hemisphere. It was only six years ago that 49.4 percent of
French-speaking Quebecois voted to secede from the shared culture of
The lesson that Quebec teaches is that language is a powerful
pressure point of disunity when one section of the country speaks a
language different from that of the national majority. It is
unfortunate that President Bush appears to be fostering this same kind
of separatism by starting to deliver his Saturday radio broadcasts in
Spanish as well as in English.