The 2006 mid-terms may go down as the turning point when fair trade finally became a major cutting-edge issue. Many commentators have noted that a backlash against “free” trade played a pivotal role in Democratic victories in the mid-west and rust belt. The call for fair trade was a common denominator in the Democrats’ Senate victories over incumbents, as Harold Meyerson explains in his American Prospect article “The Fair-Trade Election”:
The Democratic pickups — Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Montana’s Jon Tester, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, and Virginia’s James Webb — all unseated free-trade incumbents with campaigns that stressed the need to pay far greater attention to the downward leveling that globalization entails. Tester ran ads attacking trade agreements for putting “our jobs and the viability of family farms and ranches across Montana in jeopardy.” Webb’s Web site states, “We must reexamine our tax and trade policies and reinstitute notions of fairness.”
Likewise in the House races, as Christopher Hayes notes in his article in The Nation “The New Democratic Populism”:
A postelection analysis by Public Citizen found that campaigns cut twenty-five ads attacking free-trade deals, and that trade played a significant role in more than a dozen House races won by Democrats. In the entire election, Public Citizen noted, “no incumbent fair trader was beaten by a ‘free trader.'”
Fair trade may prove to be the issue that helps Democrats make inroads into the south, where the textile industry has been devastated in a number of communities. Democrat Heath Shuler’s victory in his North Carolina House race benefitted from his embrace of fair trade as a priority.
Fair trade is an issue that has clearly arrived in a big way for a growing number of voters in industrial heartland communities. Yet, with characteristic elitism, President Bush has already taken some pot shots at the newly-elected fair trade Democrats. Let’s hope the GOP’s next presidential nominee will be equally clueless.