In the fall of 1994 the American people elected a Republican Congress by an overwhelming majority. Part of the message of that election was that the citizens of America wanted their money home, and they wanted their power back at the grass roots. The lame duck Congress which met after that election voted approval for American entry into the World Trade Organization. At the time, I asked every senator who voted for it why he had chosen to repudiate the clear will of the voters and vote for a treaty that put American sovereignty into the hands of unelected foreigners in the WTO.
I said then, and I’ll say now, that anyone who supports American membership in the World Trade Organization demonstrates by that fact alone that he does not understand the most basic things about the importance and nature of American sovereignty, and is thereby disqualified from serving as president of the United States. And let me add that the application of this criterion to the current Republican field will winnow it quite a bit, to put it mildly. We should demand an explanation from any such candidate as to why he is willing to support American participation in an organization that sacrifices the sovereignty of our people.
The demonstrators against the WTO in Seattle last week were, no doubt, largely a confused bunch. But if we look past the motley colors of trade union and environmental extremism, economic illiteracy and general anti-Western hostility, we can see a common theme to which we should listen with respect if we value our liberty. The demonstrators were telling us that, when American leaders hand our sovereign power to a body of unelected ministers, many of whom are chosen by dictators and tyrants, they have placed that sovereign power beyond the reach of our people. The portion of American sovereignty now squirreled away in the WTO cannot be touched through the ballot box, because nobody elects the officers of the WTO. We cannot exercise that sovereignty through any of the Constitutional processes that are supposed to protect our access to the power we delegate to our leaders in sacred trust.
The drama in Seattle ought to remind us that the deepest issues at stake in the trade discussion are not about who has jobs and how many are lost overseas. In the GATT/World Trade Organization fiasco, our leaders in Washington have signed on to an approach that for the first time in our history subjects the vital interests of the United States to a decision that will be taken by majority vote in an international body we do not elect, that is not responsive to our interests or will, and which will have the ability to choose panels of judges with the authority to overturn laws passed in the United States. The WTO represents an essential, self-inflicted attack on our constitutional system. The Constitution obliges the federal government to guarantee a republican form of government in all the states precisely because lawmakers at any level who are appointed by tyrants and dictators will represent nothing but tyranny. And now our national trade policy — and even our domestic economic order — are increasingly in the hands of a globalist clique to whom our most effective access appears to be street riots.
This whole issue of so-called “free trade” has now, I think, become more clearly the issue of whether we’re going to defend the sovereignty of the American people. But while we must protect American sovereignty at all costs, the political movement that is now forming to reclaim that sovereignty will make a serious mistake if it imagines that economic protectionism is the way to defend the prosperity of the American citizen. One of the reasons that I am critical of the motives of many of the demonstrators in Seattle is that I think they make this mistake. The trade issue is a difficult and complicated one, and we must avoid both the unreasonable extreme of globalist trade management and the unreasonable extreme of national trade protectionism.
I am a conservative, which means that I believe, as a bedrock practical principle, that government is not the answer to the problems of this nation. Government has no economic panaceas. Government provides no overall solutions, except when it operates with self-restraint and with respect for the energy and wisdom of a free people. In our economic affairs it remains true that the surest route to national prosperity is a government that leaves us to build the material foundation of our pursuit of happiness in the ways that seem best to us. And the technological advances of the modern era increasingly have meant that American citizens have seen fit to pursue that prosperity by means of freely chosen relationships of trade with the peoples of the world. This is a prominent cause of the prosperity we enjoy today. And by encouraging the general liberalization of trade arrangements in the world we have played an important role in the increasing prosperity that — despite all of the gloomy predictions of resource limitation and a supposed era of global limits — the peoples of the world increasingly enjoy as well.
For these reasons we must not listen to politicians of any party who tell the American people that there is some protectionist panacea that will recreate jobs in this country. This is not a conservative principle, because trade socialism is still socialism. I oppose the supposedly “free trade” agreements of GATT/WTO and NAFTA because I think that they were unfair, and have substantially surrendered the interest of the American citizen and worker to foreign interests. But I do not oppose them because I believe that a protectionist wall raised by government is going to stomp on the ground and raise up jobs that have disappeared.
Our trade policy must be to support the trade that is freely and wisely chosen by our people. Government’s appropriate role in that process is to negotiate terms of access that prevent foreign manufacturers from taking advantage of American ones. For example, American companies bear the financial burden of maintaining the orderly mechanism of the American marketplace. Whether in the form of corporate income tax or higher wages paid to workers so they can afford their personal taxes, American enterprise pays the price of sustaining the culture and legal framework of commerce in America. Foreign competitors are not being treated unfairly when their goods are taxed on entry to America to ensure that they contribute as well to keeping the lights on in the great American emporium. In addition, we should not allow companies from countries that deny fair access to American exports to have untrammeled access to our domestic markets.
Much ink is spilled on this simple point, and there is much pounding of podiums and striking of poses. In fact, the prudent application of these and similar criteria for our trade policy would be plain enough to an American leadership that understood both the genuine and diffuse benefits of unmolested honest trade and the dangers of the manipulation of trading opportunities by unscrupulous and dishonorable forces at home and abroad. There is such a thing as the common good, and it is discernable to men and women of good will. Without this confidence, government is impossible at any level. With it, trade agreements that are free and fair will not be unduly difficult for American statesmen to achieve.
Such wise superintendence of our trade policy is indeed a function of the federal government, and it is a kind of protection. But it is the protection that police give to adults, not the protection that parents give to children. Thus, the “protectionism” of trade walls that assume an America unable to compete, is a threat to our economic liberty as surely as the WTO is a threat to our political liberty. This nation was built on the view that it is the people who shape the destiny of America. If we have prosperity and strength it is the result of the discipline, the sacrifice, and the creativity of the American people, and not of any policy inaugurated by our government.