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Jewish World Review May 26, 2000 /21 Iyar, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy' -- CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS appear on the verge of making a disastrous choice on China trade this week. Instead of being part of America's "New Economy," they are opting to be throwbacks to William Jennings Bryan.

Bryan, the idealistic prairie populist, tried to halt the country's inevitable progress from an agricultural to an industrial nation at the turn of the last century.

As the Democrats' presidential nominee, he was defeated three times, in 1896, 1900 and 1908. He was a one-man Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.

Democrats began winning elections in the 20th century, according to Robert Atkinson of the Progressive Policy Institute, only when Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt embraced and tried to manage the new industrial economy.

Similarly, Atkinson contends, Bill Clinton has been a "New Economy" president, a consistent advocate of global free trade and high-tech restructuring. He's also been a political winner.

That's not true of Congressional Democrats, however. Heavily influenced by organized labor, they have consistently tried to sustain what's now the dying New Deal industrial order.

This week, it appears Democrats will slog through the rut once again. So far, the White House counts only 60 of the House's 211 Democrats as favoring permanent normalized trade relations with China. The most PNTR boosters hope for is 70 to 75.

It could be argued that China is a special case because of its abominable human rights record.

But in 1993, Democrats voted 102-156 on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. And in 1997 and 1998, Congress failed to give the President fast-track negotiating authority because only 40-odd Democrats supported it.

Labor leaders and House Democratic leaders such as Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and David Bonior (Mich.) claim they are not anti-trade or anti-globalist, but rather want to set better labor and environmental rules for the world economy.

However, the unions haven't met a trade pact they favor and the terms they force on most Democrats - inclusion of labor and environmental standards in the body of agreements and enforceable through trade sanctions - are utterly unacceptable to Republicans and most other nations.

Labor standards aren't part of the PNTR deal, but Vice President Al Gore has promised to include them in future trade pacts, raising questions whether he's a union or "New Economy" Democrat.

As Atkinson writes in the new issue of the Democratic Leadership Council's journal, Blueprint, history suggests that "whichever party catches today's wave of dynamic and profound transformation will lead the country for decades to come, while the party that resists ... will fall behind."

The DLC doesn't concede, of course, that Democrats are destined to be the lose-out party and Republicans the 21st century winners even though, if PNTR passes, it will do so largely with GOP support. That happened with NAFTA, too.

Instead, Atkinson tries to paint current GOP leaders as throwbacks to the laissez-faire Republicans displaced by Wilson and Roosevelt.

Other DLC writers lay out a set of "third way" proposals designed to help Democrats adapt to and govern the new global economy instead of trying to resist it.

There surely is a political opportunity here. While the globalized new information economy has created hundreds of thousands of new businesses and millions of new jobs, it also has led to dislocation, layoffs and anxiety.

When Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) delivered his latest endorsement of PNTR, he defended it entirely on economic and foreign policy grounds. He had nothing to say about any need to help workers cope with the new economy.

The DLC recommends a two-prong strategy - new "rules" for the global economy and new "tools" to help workers join the economy's "winners circle."

The DLC's proposed new "tools" include more federal funding for job retraining, science research and new tax laws to ensure that corporations train all workers, not just executives.

Other items include portable health insurance, unemployment benefits for workers forced to take lower-paid jobs and new tax-deferred savings accounts.

Will Marshall, president of the PPI, writes that "patching holes in the industrial-era safety net won't do. In fact, it's time to junk the 'safety net' metaphor entirely and replace it with the new image of a trampoline" that doesn't just catch people when they fall, but "propels them into new ... careers."

The DLC resists making the World Trade Organization the arbiter of labor and environmental standards - as unions demand -and instead recommends reinventing the International Labor Organization and creating a Global Environmental Organization to foster higher standards.

President Clinton proposes to "put a human face on the global economy," not hide from it. That's a good goal for his party, too.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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