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Obama The Russian Drunk

In the wake of NAFTAgate, Jagdish Bhagwati creatively defends Obama's free-trade credentials in the Financial Times:

The Russian proverb goes that, if you are looking for a good son-in-law, you would not ask whether he drank but only how he behaved when he was drunk. Similarly, no Democratic candidate during the primaries can be anything but a protectionist. The only question is: of the two, which is likely to be friendlier as president to the cause of multilateral free trade? Careful scrutiny suggests that the odds are in favour of Mr Obama.

Bhagwati cites, among other things, Obama's reliance on Austan Goolsbee, his support from unions in non-traded sectors of the economy, and his more measured rhetoric on the Doha Round. There are a handful of other factors to consider--his earlier and more unequivocal support of the Peru deal, for instance--but overall the evidence of there being much difference between the two of them on trade is pretty weak. They're both basically moderate free traders, with the exception of CAFTA, which they both reluctantly opposed. At the end of the day, it's hard to envision either one making any real effort to roll back trade agreements, but it's also hard to envision either one spending the political capital that it would take to convince Congress to rein in farm subsidies and move the Doha Round forward. (It's not like the Republicans are great on this front either: Bush hasn't done it and there's nothing to indicate McCain would make it a priority.) You can bet, though, that if Clinton does well enough tonight to justify continuing the campaign to Pennsylvania, we can expect another fun-filled six weeks of protectionism.

--Josh Patashnik