Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Doha round collapses

The Doha round of trade talks, under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, have collapsed. I'm not surprised, and I don't think many people were. Free trade is not exactly a popular cause these days.

I blame Bush. I haven't followed the talks closely enough to assign him blame for a particular reason, but America's reputation in the world clearly has not helped. People do not want to give up ground to a bully, and that's how Bush is perceived around the world.

There are two things here that conservatives have not come to terms with. First, George Bush simply is not a very good politician. One reason conservatives lionize Reagan is that he was a great politician. For me, that's a compliment, not an insult. Evaluations of political ability are, for me, value neutral. A good politician can be a good or bad person, just like a good quarterback might be a good or bad person. The ends for which a politician uses their ability is different from that ability itself. Reagan was a great politician because he was able to work with people he disagreed with, and because he was able to maneuver himself to take advantage of political developments. Reagan had a fine sense of what was possible at what moment, and how far he could push something. Bush has no clue on that score. He just does what he wants, and damn the consequences. He's also incompetent at explaining complex ideas. But what is particularly damning about Bush is that his opponents simply don't trust him. They assume that he is out for his own good, and does not care about them. His refusal to compromise on so many things gives others very little incentive to compromise with him.

The second thing conservatives have not come to terms with is a corollary of the first: the fact that Bush is not a good politician has caused immense damage to the causes that conservatives hold dear. The failure of the Doha round is a big deal, particularly for American corporations, and they will be disappointed in Bush. There is no possible way that Republicans can blame Democrats for this, try as they might (and I'm sure they will try). This has been a project of the Bush administration, and its failure is Bush's fault. And with this failure, the cause of free trade is going to lose significant momentum. It is always ironic to me that Clinton was actually a far more effective proponent of free trade than Bush.

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