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Reception of Bill McGaughey’s book, “A U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement: Do We Just Say No?, by two presidential candidates during the 1992 Campaign

   

Bill Clinton, the Democratic Candidate

Bill Clinton came to Minneapolis seeking support for his presidential campaign in April or May 1992. He spoke at a pep rally in Peavey Plaza on Nicollet Mall, adjoining Orchestra Hall. While Clinton shook hands after the rally, I, Bill McGaughey, handed the candidate a copy of his anti-NAFTA book. "Is this for me?", Clinton asked in a voice that sounded like Elvis Presley's. A minute later, one of Clinton’s female aides asked for my name and address. This resulted in two letters:

A letter dated May 21, 1992, read:

“Dear Bill:

Thank you so much for the book, ‘A U.S.-Mexico-Canada free Trade Agreement, Do We Just Say No?’

Hillary and I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Sincerely,

Bill Clinton”

Another letter arrived in the mail. It was dated July 20, 1992. This letter read:

“Dear Bill:

Thank you for sending me your book, ‘A U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement.’ I’m looking forward to reading it in the White House.

Sincerely,

Bill Clinton”

The signature in the second letter was identical to that in the letter two months earlier.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore, now his running mate, returned to Minneapolis in the summer of 1992, on August 7th, in front of the Minneapolis city hall. Bill McGaughey wanted to give a copy of his book to Gore, but the vice-presidential candidate was nowhere to be seen after the rally. Instead, Clinton again came by shaking hands. So McGaughey attempted to give the presidential candidate another copy. “No,” said Bill Clinton, “I already have a copy” adding (if I heard him correctly) “it’s good book”.

After being elected President, Bill Clinton became a staunch champion of the free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, promising support of pork-barrel projects to members of Congress who supported giving him “fast-track authority” for the trade agreement. So, it would appear that Bill McGaughey’s book had little effect on him, or perhaps a negative effect.

Clinton did give the matter some thought, however, because he made a major speech during his campaign promising to negotiate “side agreements” with Mexico that would protect labor and environmental standards if NAFTA passed.

Ironically, the Clinton campaign made a frantic call to the Minnesota AFL-CIO headquarters late in the campaign asking how it could get a copy of McGaughey’s book. Evidently, a woman in Colorado had heckled a Clinton campaign surrogate using materials from the book as evidence.

A greater irony is that, now, fifteen years after the passage of NAFTA, Bill Clinton’s wife Hillary and Barack Obama competed with each other in the 2008 Ohio and Texas primaries on the basis of who was more strongly opposed to NAFTA. Hillary Clinton was the surprising winner.

 

Ross Perot, a Third-Party Candidate, Father of the Reform (or Independence) Party

Perot did not come to Minnesota during his presidential campaign. So, Bill McGaughey mailed a copy of his book, A U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement: Do We Just Say No?”, to the Perot organization in Dallas, Texas.

He received the following letter from a representative of the Perot Group, dated April 30, 1992:

“Dear Mr. McGaughey:

Thank you for your recent correspondence to Ross Perot. He has asked me to respond.

We appreciate your interest very much. Mr. Perot feels that it is important to know what you think.

At this point, there is no campaign. However, volunteers across the nation are working to put Mr. Perot on the ballot in their states. If they are successful, Mr. Perot has said that he will run as their candidate.

We would like to keep your correspondence. If Mr. Perot decides to organize a campaign effort, we want to refer again to the issues you discussed.

Again, thank you for contacting us.

Sincerely,

Bob Peck”

Ross Perot did run for President. In the end, running against Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, he received 19% of the vote.

Perot was a billionaire who advocated fiscal integrity by running to a balanced budget. Balancing this conservative plank, however, was Perot’s opposition to NAFTA. It started when Perot gave an interview to a left-leaning journalist, John Judis, in which he confided that several of his Texas business friends had told him that they would move some of their operations to Mexico if NAFTA passed. Perot famously predicted, then, that there would be “a giant sucking sound” as jobs went south as a consequence of the free-trade agreement.

Even a billionaire like Perot - now a populist candidate - could not prevent the wrath of the corporate media in its desire to promote free trade. The television networks refused to give Perot air time for a paid commercial to discuss his opposition to the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Closer to home, the St. Paul Pioneer Press did a story on the Perot campaign, purporting to do a ‘reality check’ on his claims. In regard to the “giant sucking sound, the St. Paul newspaper ran this terse item:

FACT: A study by the Institute for International Economics found that the United States would gain 130,000 jobs by 1995 if the North American Free-Trade Agreement were approved,” read the bullet-point item. In other words, Perot was talking through his hat.

I happened to have purchased a copy of the book which had provided that statistic. Published by the Washington-based Institute for International Economics, it was “North American Free Trade: Issues and Recommendations” by economists Gary C. Hufbauer and Jeffrey J. Schott. The net gain of 130,000 jobs by 1995, I found in reviewing the authors’ argument, was based purely on an assumption. There was no empirical basis whatsoever for the claim of a net gain in jobs.

I outlined Hufbauer’s and Schott’s calculation on a sheet of paper. (This outline, in abbreviated form, appears on another website.) I then called the editor of the Pioneer Press to inform him of my discovery. No, it was not a “fact” that 130,000 jobs would be created, merely an assumption.

I offered to walk a Pioneer Press editor or reporter through my analysis of the two economists’ argument. The editor promised to take a look at materials that I might send.

Some time later, he wrote me to suggest that my rebuttal would better take the form of an opinion article. So I wrote it up in that form. Eventually, I received a postcard from another editor stating that my opinion piece was “a bit dense & technical”; but, he added, “try us with something else.”

In the meanwhile, the 1992 presidential election was held. People in St. Paul and elsewhere probably thought that Ross Perot was misinformed on trade issues. No, he was done in by the media.

Curiously, when I sent one of the authors of the book, Gary C. Hufbauer, a letter disclosing my analysis, he replied with the comment that my analysis was essentially correct while insisting that his conclusion was also correct. I didn’t know how to respond to that.

In conclusion, opposition to free trade was an important part of the Reform Party’s platform when Ross Perot was its standard bearer. When Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota, however, elected on the Reform Party ticket, he changed course. Ventura was an ardent free trader. Now that issue has faded from the mix of proposals supported or even discussed at Independence Party meetings.

I propose to bring it back.

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