Clinton’s Sudden Opposition To TPP Means Absolutely Nothing

In what everyone is making out to be big, huge, earth-shattering news, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has come out in opposition to the Transpacific Trade Partnership:

“Hillary Rodham Clinton dealt a significant blow to President Obama in his efforts to secure approval from Congress on his signature trade agreement, saying on Wednesday she could not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade pact that she bolstered as secretary of state and that liberals in the Democratic Party have vehemently opposed.

After months of delicately avoiding expressing an opinion on the controversial trade deal, Mrs. Clinton said the agreement in its current form did not meet her high bar for protecting American workers, the environment and advancing national security.”

Not only is it a dramatic break with President Obama, it’s also a clear sign Clinton is finally starting to worry about the threat posed by Bernie Sanders. More importantly, the move marks a stunning reversal from a candidate who had, on 45 separate occasions, advocated for the trade bill she is now opposing. Those are all fine ways to spin the announcement, and they make for nice headlines and solid articles.

The thing is, in the end, Clinton’s abrupt change of heart on TPP is likely to mean exactly nothing.

I’m not saying that because of Clinton’s long record of supporting TPP, or because she once called it the “gold standard in trade agreements.” It is the mark of an intelligent and reasonable person that, when presented with new evidence on an issue, will change their views and opinions on said issue. The TPP process has been shrouded in secrecy and details are only slowly filtering out. It is entirely possible that Clinton has simply amassed enough of those details to change her mind. Consider the language Clinton used to announce her change of heart:

“In a taped interview with PBS’s NewsHour, Clinton said ‘as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.’ The former secretary of state added, ‘I don’t have the text, we don’t yet have all the details, I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.'”

Sincere though her opposition to TPP may be, her remarks are scarcely the full-throated denunciation of the agreement that we have heard from Bernie Sanders or even Martin O’Malley. There’s a lot of wiggle room in Hillary’s statement, what with its “as of today” and “I don’t believe.” The shift certainly wouldn’t rule out another pivot on the issue, come the general election. It’s also the sort of language that wouldn’t fit terribly well into a stump speech. “As of today, I’m not in favor of what I have learned about it,” is not going to be used as a rallying cry by anyone.

“As of today, I’m not in favor of what I have learned about it,” is not going to be used as a rallying cry by anyone.

There is one thing that Clinton’s new TPP position is: Smart politics.

From a campaign that has been stumbling along for months, smartness is a bit surprising. Clinton’s revelation is one of a long string of attempts to co-opt positions espoused by Sanders. This appeal to the left will not be entirely successful, but it may peel off a vote or two. More importantly, it represents a preemptive strike against Joe Biden. As a sitting Vice President, Biden cannot possibly come out in opposition to a pact that President Obama has made one of the signature achievements of his second term. Clinton’s change of heart is a nice way of drawing a clear distinction between her and Biden, and could ensure that, should he declare his candidacy, he will siphon away fewer of her votes.

Clinton’s newfound skepticism towards TPP is about as meaningful as signing an online petition.

While this may be good politics, there doesn’t seem to much more to it than that. It is very easy to suddenly be against a thing you have little control over. It’s reminiscent of Clinton’s announced opposition to Arctic drilling, made one day after Obama issued the final approval for the process. Sure, it was nice of Clinton to chime in, but where was she earlier in the discussion? Arctic drilling is a bell that can’t be unrung. (Shell may have discontinued its “exploratory” drilling but, once the price of oil rises sufficiently, they’ll be back.) Again, it is easy to oppose something that is already in place. It takes much more courage to fight it from the beginning. The Sanders campaign has said as much:

The passage of TPP is not assured, especially with the chaos that is erupting in the House. Should it pass, it will be in place once the next president takes office. Rolling back TPP will not be the easiest of tasks as there will be an awful lot of worms to stuff back into the can. The effort would present quite the challenge for any Democratic president — a hypothetical President Sanders would have just as much trouble as a hypothetical President Clinton.

That fact makes the coming fight over TPP in Congress all the more important; it also means those who truly oppose TPP will have to do more than utter the proper words. It’s time for action. Clinton’s newfound skepticism towards TPP is, thus far, nothing more than a high-profile version of signing an online petition in the wake of tragedy. It lets the world know that yes, Clinton does not approve of TPP. No, sir.

But just what will her actions be beyond her recent statements?

Will she pressure Democrats in Congress to vote against TPP in coming months? Should TPP pass, will she lay out a comprehensive plan for undoing its damage, should she win the presidency? Will she say anything of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, yet another trade pact, which is likely to be an issue for the next president?

If the answers to these questions is a resounding “No”, then the announcement is little more than politics as usual from Clinton. Very astute politics, a very easy way to reach out to the left of the Democratic Party without having to do much of anything. Of course, time will tell if her gamble (or lack thereof) pays off. On the other hand, if this is more than political maneuvering, I would expect Clinton to follow her change of heart with action.

We’ll see, but I’m not holding my breath.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons

Akira Watts failed to graduate with a B.A. in philosophy from Amherst College and now does an assortment of IT related things. He has been writing a nebulously plotted literary choose-your-own-adventure work for the past five years. He lives in Santa Fe, NM with a small fish and a cat the size of a yeti. Before joining the team at Reverb Press, Akira was a frequent contributor at Truthout.org READ MORE BY AKIRA.