Things have gotten so bad for Democrats this election cycle that President Barack Obama is picking fights and swinging at the air. Desperate to resist an onslaught of Republican victories next week, Democrats are pulling out the “fear of foreigners” card, criticizing trade policies and lobbying for protectionist measures in hopes of salvaging the upcoming elections.

Disdain for foreigners or things non-American bares its ugly face in cycles. Republican politicians and their supporters have had a tendency to scapegoat foreigners to capitalize on the fears of Americans. But recently, Democratic candidates have also utilized race-baiting while attacking trade with China in a last-ditch attempt to appeal to working-class voters. Take Mark Schauer (D–Mich.), who has run advertisements criticizing what he calls unfair trade with foreign countries. In one segment, Schauer is pictured speaking with homogenous groups of middle-aged, working-class white people. In the ad, he explicitly attacks trade with China not once, but twice. He emphasizes his position by highlighting the words “against” and “jobs in China” in bold yellow.

Citing the trade deficit, Congressional Democrats have pushed for tariffs and import restrictions on Chinese goods. Apparently, they learned nothing from the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which raised tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods and is widely considered one of the worst economic decisions in American history.

Take for example, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO — the nation’s largest labor union and a major financier of the Democratic Party — who invoked notions of a “trade war with China” in a Sept. 30 USA Today article. Trumka calls for the U.S. to forcefully stop the Chinese from manipulating their currency’s value. These calls haven’t rang hollow. Democrats have recently introduced numerous pieces of trade-restricting legislation, and on Sept. 28, a New York Times article by Yale University economist Stephen Roach stated that Obama is “prepared to take forceful actions if China doesn’t budge” on the issue of its currency manipulation and the trade deficit.

There’s a fundamental misconception that a trade deficit is bad. The trade deficit is the difference between the value of imports and exports between economies. Some worry about our annual trade deficit to China, which reached $226 billion in 2009, but they’re incorrect in thinking that’s a bad thing. A trade deficit with China means that the value of Chinese goods that we’re purchasing is greater than the value of American goods purchased by the Chinese.

We can illustrate that concerns over mass importation of Chinese goods are irrational by utilizing the trade relationship between you (an average consumer) and Meijer as an example. Assume you regularly shop at Meijer, importing goods sold by the store into your home. Meijer has likely never purchased anything from you. From your perspective, the trade deficit between you and Meijer is enormous. But this trade deficit has never harmed you. On the contrary, Meijer’s specialization provides easy access to goods that would otherwise take a great deal of effort and resources to acquire. The accessibility, affordability and efficiency are the same reasons for trading with China. Both parties benefit.

The Obama administration and Congressional Democrats want to forcefully stop China from manipulating its currency to export goods at affordable prices. But as Roach points out, “forcing such a currency realignment would be a blunder of historic proportions.” Advocates of trade restrictions claim they want the pie sliced equally between the United States and China, but these threats only amount to higher prices for American consumers as a result of tariffs and protection from competition for politically-connected American manufacturers. Not surprisingly, beneficiaries include labor unions and special interests that provide millions to the Democratic Party.

But focus on trade relations with foreigners isn’t limited to the trade deficit. Recently, Obama carelessly attacked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a lobbying organization that supports free trade. Obama and establishment Democrats accused the group of utilizing foreign contributions to support candidates in the United States, despite no evidence to back up their claims, as Time magazine reported on Oct. 14.

And in an embarrassing blunder for the party, the Center for Responsive Politics revealed on Oct. 17 that Democrats have taken $1.02 million this election cycle from foreign-affiliated Political Action Committees — twice as much as Republicans. The Obama administration isn’t happy enough with its role in reducing the freedom of individuals to lobby politicians. They want to be hypocrites while they’re at it.

If the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats were to enact trade restrictions or forcefully inflate the value of China’s currency, it would be devastating to our economy and a blow to maintaining peaceful relations with China. But when they’re hypocrites using manufactured information in a backfiring smear campaign, their desperate attempts to mitigate November losses with political demagoguery are as clear as a slab of Chinese-imported glass.

Alex Biles can be reached at jabiles@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.