Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Will Obama's 'wink wink' on free trade help Clinton win precious votes in Ohio?

From the Canadian Globe and Mail:
The Clinton people have dubbed it NAFTA-gate, and desperately wish the press would do the same. The Obama people try to shrug the whole thing off.

The question is whether Barack Obama's Canadian contradictions over the North American free-trade agreement could tip the balance in today's mini Super Tuesday.

Here's what happened, based in part on a leaked memorandum obtained by The Associated Press, and on reports from CTV: Early in February, Austan Goolsbee, one of Mr. Obama's senior economic advisers, talked informally with officials at the Canadian consulate in Chicago. A consulate staffer wrote a memo based on the conversation, in which he said Mr. Goolsbee advised the Canadians that “much of the rhetoric that may be perceived to be protectionist is more reflective of political manoeuvring than policy.”

This memo made the rounds, and eventually the gist of the message was communicated to a CTV journalist, who reported that Mr. Obama was saying one thing about NAFTA to voters, but something quite different to the Canadian government.

Mr. Goolsbee insists his comments were taken out of context by the memo writer. The Canadian embassy in Washington strongly denied that there had been any communication between the Obama campaign and the embassy.

When that turned out to be technically, but not substantively, true – the communication was with the Chicago consulate, not the embassy – the embassy yesterday offered an apology, saying that “there was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA. We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect.”

End of story? Hardly.

Throughout a marathon 75-minute conference call with reporters yesterday, senior Clinton campaign officials repeatedly stressed the importance of the contradiction between Mr. Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric and the private assurances of one of his advisers.

“The fact that his aide would be saying something in private very different to Canadian officials is very much on the minds of voters in Ohio,” maintained Howard Wolfson, Ms. Clinton's communications director.

“Because it's just flat-out wrong to tell the people of Ohio one thing in public about NAFTA and say something quite different to the government of Canada behind closed doors.”

Ms. Clinton said yesterday that she believed the Obama campaign had given the Canadian government “the old wink-wink.”

“I think that's the kind of difference between talk and action that I've been talking about,” she went on. “It raises questions about Senator Obama coming to Ohio and giving speeches against NAFTA.”

And in further display of his, like, totally awesome diplomatic skills, we have this from the Obama campaign:

The CBC reported yesterday that the affair had infuriated Mr. Obama and his senior advisers to the point that it could impair relations between an Obama administration and the Canadian government, quoting an Obama campaign official saying, “Why is Canada meddling in the internal affairs of the United States. … To provide such a false account at this juncture on the eve of a crucial election is not an accident, and it is really, really stupid.” But the Obama official who spoke to The Globe and Mail described the reaction as “overblown.”


Sara said...


isn't that the whole Obama campaign in Ohio?

Sue J said...

Or did you mean:

"isn't that the whole Obama campaign?"

Mauigirl said...

In all fairness, it seems as if this was rather a game of "telephone" and it is unclear what the truth is. And Hillary, I'm sure, was delighted to spread the news about it. I agree it may be damaging to Obama in Ohio and Texas.

On a lighter note, Hillary was good on The Daily Show last night. She was in her humorous, charming persona and that is the one I like the best!

Sue J said...

Hi Mauigirl -- Well, I agree there was a "miscommunication," but I'm still troubled by it. It may be true that the memo was an "inaccurate account" of the meeting, but it was a long memo written by someone who attended so it was his impression of what Obama's spokesman said.

So whether this is what the spokesman intended or not, this is what the Canadians heard. I fear it's part of the messy foreign policy we have ahead of us.

But I am ... er ... a little stressed this evening so perhaps I'm over reacting .... I'm not at the beach like SOME people on this thread ;-)

Big glass of merlot should help!

Mauigirl said...

LOL, I have to admit the beach thing does keep everything in a certain amount of perspective...

The Canadian thing may be a foreign policy gaffe or just a goof some spokesman made. Either way, to your point, it is a concern, but it is only one thing. I hope it isn't indicative of anything bigger.

At any rate, you are probably very happy with tonight's results! My biggest concern is that this will now go on indefinitely until the convention and the Democrats won't be able to come together.

Sue J said...

Well, you know it used to be that the nominees were chosen at the convention itself. It's only been in recent history that we've had the nominee picked so early in the process.

I tend to take a positive look about this: whether the nominee is Obama or Clinton, we'll still have plenty of time to focus our support behind them. And here's the biggy: Look at how many NEW democratic voters there are in this cycle! If we can keep them all energized until November, I think we can win back the White House.

And I for one, will absolutely vote for Barack Obama if he is the Democratic nominee. (I just can't promise I won't continue to say snarky things once he's elected president!)

Don't forget to wear your sunscreen!

Mauigirl said...

You are right, Sue, it is true that it is only recently that the races were decided so early. The important thing will be uniting after the convention (or whenever the nominee is finalized). I agree, there are tons of new voters, and not just because of Obama. Democrats are really energized!

I am sure I'll say snarky things about whoever is elected too - there are always things we won't like!

No worries, I am faithfully wearing sunscreen! I got burned once here - learned my lesson!