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Protectionism Doesn’t Play in Texas

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Texas and Ohio voters may go to the polls on the same day this week but the similarities between the two states ends there. Ohio, with its slumping economy and housing woes, is the perfect battleground for the Democrats’ economic protectionism message. But economic times are better in Texas and while record numbers will likely vote in the Democratic primary, neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will gain much traction in the general election with their protectionist-centric economic positions.

The Wall Street Journal explains:

[T]he Texas economy has boomed since 2004, with nearly twice the rate of new job creation as the rest of the nation. The nearby table compares the states over a decade or so…
Texas’s growth puts the lie to the myth that free trade costs American jobs. Anti-Nafta rhetoric doesn’t play well in El Paso, San Antonio and Houston, which have become gateway cities for commerce with Latin America and have flourished since the North American Free Trade Agreement passed Congress in 1993. Mr. Obama’s claim of one million lost jobs due to trade deals is laughable in Texas, the state most affected by Nafta. Texas has gained 36,000 manufacturing jobs since 2004 and has ranked as the nation’s top exporting state for six years in a row. Its $168 billion of exports in 2007 translate into tens of thousands of jobs.

Even without their embrace of anti-free trade positions, the Democrats would have an uphill battle in Texas – the state hasn’t “gone blue” since 1976. However, just because the state is firmly in the Republican column doesn’t mean Obama and Clinton should ignore how well NAFTA has worked down here. One of our most contentious political issues right now is not what to do about the economy but how on earth to build enough roads to handle the trucks coming from and going to Mexico.

Presidential candidates should not base policy on a fragment of the picture or with only one region in mind. Yes, free trade has hurt some businesses in some regions but it’s created booms in many other businesses in other regions. Instead of scrambling to save industries and business models that have failed in the face of globalization, our leaders should be working to promote policies that will help competitive industries prosper.

Ohioans may like to hear that a tweak of this free trade policy or that one will bring the jobs back but, the reality is, those jobs are gone and trying to adjust national policies will likely hurt successful regions more than it will help troubled ones. The Democrats would do well to acknowledge that reality when discussing free trade.