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My overall sense is that Barack Obama is better than most politicians at saying what he really believes and avoiding outright pandering to vote-rich interest groups.  But everyone has his limits, and I never for a second believed he was serious when he ripped into NAFTA before union audiences during the Ohio primary.  And he wasn’t:

President Obama warned on Thursday against a “strong impulse” toward protectionism while the world suffers a global economic recession and said his election-year promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement on behalf of unions and environmentalists will have to wait.

….The president’s message served as a reminder of last year’s private assessment by Canadian officials that then-candidate Obama’s frequent criticism of NAFTA was nothing more than campaign speeches aimed at chasing support among Rust Belt union workers.

“Much of the rhetoric that may be perceived to be protectionist is more reflective of political maneuvering than policy,” the Canadians concluded in a memo after meeting with Austan Goolsbee, a senior campaign aide and now a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Obama is fundamenally a liberal technocrat.  His biggest sin was never a lack of support for open trade, but simply the fact that faced with a close primary in a big state, he succumbed to demagogery — which just goes to show that even the king of “no drama” has his limits when the presidency of the United States is on the line.

Still, no harm, no foul.  The only person who was hurt by this was Hillary Clinton, who spent the Ohio primary bashing NAFTA just as loudly — and just as insincerely — as Obama.  If there’s anyone out there who believes she meant what she said about NAFTA any more than Obama did, let me know.  I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you with some nice option ARM financing……

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