I'm grateful that congressional Democrats have stiffened their spines in the face of the full-court press by their Republican counterparts, working in conjunction with the President so many of them hate, to fast-track the negotiation and final approval of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP, for short, appears to be an Asian counterpart to NAFTA--or, to look at it another way, yet another attempt to relocate American jobs overseas under the guise of promoting global prosperity through "free trade." We have been assured that these fears are groundless, that TPP in its current form includes protections for domestic workers, as well as for environmental issues.
Sounds great. There's just one problem. "Fast track," in this case, includes the inability of anyone in the U.S. other than the President and his negotiators to read the terms of TPP before they vote on it. Or, for that matter, to offer any changes in those terms prior to an up-or-down vote on it.
I don't know if that bothers you or not but, whatever your political persuasion may be, I think it should. It bothers me a lot. For one very simple reason: It's not the way our system of government is supposed to work.
We have a Constitution that diffuses power within the Federal government and outside of it, among the states and individuals. That diffusion is designed to ensure that government truly is of, by, and for the people, because the people are able to weigh in on issues facing the nation. "Fast track," on the other hand, is not about weighing in on anything. It's about giving not only this President, but any and all of his successors, the ability to run roughshod over the concerns of the governed.
Sadly, Barack Obama doesn't seem to see it that way. Not only has he defended the TPP process, he's made it clear how unhappy he is that "folks" (as he might call them) within his own party have called him out for pushing it as hard as he has. Or, to put it in his own words, "I take that personally."
As well you might, Mr. President. As well you might.
But facts are stubborn things, as someone once said. And the fact is, sir, that you have put more muscle behind moving TPP than you have behind anything else. More muscle than you put behind immigration. More than you put behind cap-and-trade legislation. More than you put behind financial regulation, or health care, or even the economic stimulus. In each case, you were content to play a background role, and let the legislative process play itself out--and, as a consequence, get a lot less in the results that your supporters wanted.
And it's not as if there aren't a whole host of other issues behind which you could put similar muscle. Raising the minimum wage. Solving the student debt crisis. Repairing the damage done by the Supreme Court to the Voting Rights Act. Enacting sensible restrictions on guns, of the kinds that were formerly supported by member of both parties.
Why take the major stand of your presidency here? And why is your message, "Trust me"?
Why not trust us? You belong to a party that prides itself on robust debate. You promised us a transparent presidency. You were formerly a vociferous critic of earlier trade agreements, and the harm they have done to our economy. Why betray all of that for the sake of TPP? For the sake of the twin siren calls of history and the media, whispering in your ear that they only love "bipartisan" presidencies? Is that it? Is it something else?
Why not just end the guessing game, and the suspicion that goes hand-in-hand with it, by just letting our elected representatives read the damn thing? Why not show us what transparency actually looks like? Why not "trust the process," as you were so willing to at every other fork in the road of your Administration?
I'm one of your biggest supporters, Mr. President, but you're acting like a petulant child on this one, not like a leader. Trust the process. Trust the people. Trust your own party. You want trust? Get it the old-fashioned way. Earn it.