This was a perfect trade deal until Obama and Kerry screwed it up after I left the administration, appears to be what she’ll have to go with. The truth is that she has few other political options as she tries to box out her competitors. And since Biden is still in the administration, he, unfortunately, will have less room to pretend to hate TPP.Will anyone find Clinton’s position convincing? In 2008, both Clinton and then-Senator Barack Obama pledged to “renegotiate” NAFTA if they were elected. In one of the stranger moments that spring, both campaigns were caught telling Canadian dignitaries that they were just saying that for political purposes. (Fortunately for Clinton, she wasn’t caught until after the Ohio primary, which she won.) President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put approximately zero seconds of effort into “renegotiating” NAFTA. What should anyone expect a would-be President Clinton to do about TPP?
At Vox, two writers made even harsher judgments. Timothy B. Lee was first out at Vox with a piece headlined “Hillary Clinton’s flip-flop on the TPP makes no sense,” he linked to a CNNpiece that cited 45 times Clinton has spoken favorably of the agreement and noted that three years ago she said the “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements”:
There are two ways that Clinton’s professed concern over an excessively pro-pharma deal rings hollow. One is that—unlike currency manipulation—this is an issue where Clinton speaking up earlier could have made a difference in the negotiations. Instead, Clinton at the time carefully avoided addressing the substance of the TPP’s drug provisions. I can’t find a single example where she called for Obama to accept the more consumer-friendly terms other countries were demanding.Second, the final version of the TPP wound up being less friendly to big drug companies than the version US negotiators proposed. If Clinton was concerned about the TPP being too friendly to big drug companies, the final version should have made her more, not less, comfortable, than the “gold standard” version she once praised.
Ezra Klein at Vox went even harsher in his piece headlined “Why Clinton’s TPP opposition unnerves me”:
…the argument here isn’t that there aren’t reasons to oppose the TPP, but rather that knowing Clinton’s record, her advisers, and her past comments about the deal, it’s hard to believe Clinton really opposes the TPP deal. […]I don’t truly know what’s in Clinton’s heart—perhaps I’m wrong, and despite all evidence to the contrary, she holds all these positions deeply—but as a close reader of her record, I’m not convinced that Clinton, in office, wouldn’t support policies like the Cadillac tax or negotiate trade deals like the TPP. And as someone trying to understand Clinton’s likely governing philosophy, it’s unnerving.
And this is a broader problem for Clinton. Her political weakness, fairly or not, is that the voters and the media—or maybe it’s the media and, thus, the voters—have decided that she’s unusually poll-tested and calculating, even for a politician. Politically convenient policy changes don’t help, and they cut against what should be her greatest asset: that she’s an extraordinary policy mind who understands these issues better than her challengers, and so can be trusted to make better decisions on them.
Whether it’s a fair judgment or not, Clinton’s reputation for triangulation and an excessive wet-finger-in-the-wind approach to policy is going to dog any leftward change in viewpoint—or seeming change—that she makes throughout the campaign, even when those new viewpoints are ones her liberal critics support.