Well, President Clinton finally made it to Nebraska--the University of Nebraska, at Kearney, to be exact--Dec. 8.
His visit was the first time ever in our 37th state during the eight years he has been our commander-in-chief. Too late, if you ask me. He could have used some Cornhusker common sense years ago, specifically concerning the issue he chose for his speech, in Kearney--foreign policy and international trade. Come to think of it, everybody in Washington could have used some Cornhusker common sense during the past eight years.
At the University of Nebraska, at Kearney, President Clinton said, "We want global trade to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, from India to China to Africa. We know if it happens, it will create a big market for everything American, from corn to cars to computers."
That is quite an ambitious vision; one Nebraskans, no doubt, share, but just how dedicated has the outgoing President and his party been to seeing that vision realized? Not nearly enough, if you ask me. There were too many missed opportunities to promote free trade.
Remember the debacle in Seattle? What ever happened to fast track and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)? The latter opportunities were missed, undoubtedly, because of the influence of extreme environmentalists and labor unions.
But the Democrats aren't the only culprits; certain, powerful Republicans in Congress still insist on maintaining unilateral sanctions of some kind over half the world's population and passing Permanent Normal Trade Relation (PNTR) for China in a Republican Congress was considerably more difficult than it ever should have been.
This leads to the obvious question: With a White House occupied by "either" Bush-Cheney or Gore-Lieberman, will we make any progress with respect to opening new international markets for American agriculture?
It is hard to tell, but I am more encouraged by George W. Bush and the former secretary of defense. Richard Cheney has solid, free trade credentials, and let's recall what even the official 2000 Republican platform said: "Our farmers export some $54 billion in products and commodities every year. For them, for the aspirations of their families and the dreams of their children, the opening of foreign markets is essential. Governor Bush understands that--that is why he has pledged to exempt food exports from any new trade sanctions."
Which way will Congress go? That is harder to tell. Left over from the 106th Congress are more than 150 legislative proposals that would impose new foreign policy or national security sanctions, modify or terminate existing ones, make some aspects of U.S. trade exempt from sanctions or reform how Congress and the executive branch use sanctions to bolster foreign policy or national security. This is not to mention all of the potential free trade agreements that both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. will have to cooperate on before it is too late. The European Union, Japan and other U.S. competitors continue to work to claim regional markets, while Washington chases its tail.
One thing is for sure, trade will continue to be a a hot issue. Both parties are going to have to get their act together and develop a comprehensive trade and foreign policy approach that puts American agriculture first.
The old Republican Cold War warriors, blind with rage and bent on economically isolating the very last vestiges of global communism, regardless of who gets hurt, are going to have to "take a chill." The Democrats, particularly those under the influence of the big labor unions, are going to have to finally stand up for common sense: More markets are better for the American worker.
Stay tuned, but don't hold your breath.