From the 09 February 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers
“BUY AMERICAN” TAKES SOME HEAT
By Bob Confer
Two weeks ago, Germany’s largest newspaper quoted me in a sizable article about protectionism. They pulled a line from my recent column about the importance of buying American-made goods as a means to stimulate our economy. In that same article they mentioned President Obama’s “Buy American” clause in the economic stimulus package, language that requires all steel and iron used in infrastructure projects to be manufactured in the USA.
In both cases, the German reporter and those he interviewed cited our thoughts as “dangerous” and “incendiary”. Even though I don’t agree with him most of the time, it’s an honor to be lumped together with our country’s chief executive when it comes to an issue with such national and, I guess, international implications. But, it saddens me that since then he has backed off on the domestic content requirement, weakening the language to the point of making it powerless. Obama and his advisors just couldn’t handle the pressure put on them from the rest of the world.
That article was just the very tip of the iceberg, one that’s an impossibly-gigantic mass of icy anti-American disdain just hoping to sink our nation like the Titanic. “Bash America” became a recurring theme at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This intensely-scrutinized summit began with Russia’s Putin and China’s Wen Jiabao blaming the US for the collapse of the global economy. They bluntly said our capitalist system was flawed and that the world needs some sort of reserve currency besides ours. Even though most attendees looked at their speeches as rants driven by tired old communist philosophies, it left a bad taste in their mouths and set the tone for the rest of the forum.
From that, the biggest hang-up of this meeting became Obama’s patriotic protectionist ways. Everyone to a man was critical of the Buy American directive. It was the general consensus that protectionism is a troubling practice and a contagious disease, one that would cause all nations to return the favor, sending the global marketplace into a tailspin, hurting what they call the “bottom billion” of the world’s population. Noting the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Act of the 1930’s (which in no way mirrors what Obama proposed) the world leaders made an effective yet horribly incorrect case for breaking down the walls.
This being the nation’s first worldly get-together since he took office, it was not a good start for Obama. Maybe not here, but definitely abroad, a great deal of shine came off of his post-inaugural glow. Not wanting to set a precedent for his reign as president, he succumbed to the stress and last Tuesday he changed his way of thinking. He said this on Fox News: "We can't send a protectionist message….I think it would be a mistake though at a time when worldwide trade is declining for us to start sending a message that somehow we are just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade."
A mistake? No, it’s a mistake that Mr. Obama is deemphasizing the clause. The stimulus package is using American money – paid for by American taxpayers – to supposedly drive the American economy. That said, charity must begin at home. Spend the money here!
Looking at the big picture, the federal government is, theoretically, a free-thinking consumer in an open marketplace, a consumer that that can make purchases as it sees fit. It can use any criteria it wants to make its buying decisions, just as you or I would at the grocery store. But, alas, the international leaders who always tout free trade are up in arms against it when it’s actually practiced.
That’s the difference between globalization and globalism. In the former, all nations are independent, interacting with one in another in open markets. In the latter, nations forsake their sovereignty and borders and self-rule become a thing of the past, something that is becoming quite common (European Union, anyone?). We’ve fallen into that globalist trap in the past with NAFTA and CAFTA. Now, we’re back at it with our current president selling us out. Sure, he was well-intentioned at the start with the Buy American drive, but by casting it aside so easily, he forgot that the people of the US voted for him to be their president. He was not elected by the rest of the world. He has no obligation to China, Russia, and European Union. First and foremost, he is supposed to look out for America. In this case - one of his very first tests - he failed us miserably.
As Obama promised in his campaign, he gave favor to the working class. Thing is, it just wasn’t here in America.