Kirk as USTR - Changeiness or Change?
By David Sirota
December 18, 2008 - 11:31am ET
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News this morning is that former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk is going to be nominated U.S. Trade Representative, after fair-trader Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) dropped out. So does this appointment represent only changeiness or does it represent real change? Hard to say.
On the changeiness side is the Dallas Morning News report noting that labor leaders "aren't sure what to make" of Kirk on trade, and that as mayor, he was "considered an ally of business interests." Additionally, Kirk has been a corporate lobbyist for the tobacco, energy and transportation industries - all which have an interest in continuing the NAFTA trade model.
On the real change side, however, is Kirk's positions during is failed 2002 U.S. Senate run and his strong statement advocating for Obama on CNN in 2008.
The Nation's John Nichols noted in 2002 that "Rep. Ken Bentsen, a Houston Democrat who voted for the current Fast Track proposal when it came before the House last December, lost a March Democratic primary for an open U.S. Senate seat after his opponent, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, said he would have opposed Fast Track." Likewise, during the Democratic primary when Hillary Clinton was trying to pretend she never advocated for NAFTA, Kirk appeared on CNN to advocate for Obama by explicitly touting the Illinois senator's commitment to fair trade. Kirk said, "We're never going to have a more responsible trade policy if we don't change the climate in Washington" (h/t The Custom House).
Thus, on balance, it's difficult to know what the Kirk nomination represents. I'd say it's clearly a less overtly progressive nomination than an explicit fair trader like Becerra, and, considering Kirk's business ties, I wouldn't be surprised if Kirk ended up being the standard-issue corporate sycophant who has occupied the U.S. Trade Representative office for the last few decades.
Then again, there is reason to believe he could be a progressive and that implementing Obama's fair-trade campaign promises wouldn't be totally antithetical to his past positions/statements in support of "a more responsible trade policy." Granted, that's a nebulous phrase - corporate lobbyists, for instance, think a "more responsible trade policy" is one with more corporate protections and fewer protections for humans. Meanwhile, progressives think a "more responsible trade policy" is one that better prioritizes workers, the environment and the macro economy. I'm inclined to believe Kirk meant the latter, not the former, as he was advocating the candidacy of a guy campaigning as a progressive.
So, in short, it's difficult to state anything totally conclusive about the Kirk nomination. As the Texas AFL-CIO says today, "The jury's out."
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