Can we finally dispense with the nonsense that Barack Obama represents a “new” and “different” type of political candidate? The dust up over the Canadian TV report that an advisor of Barack Obama’s did the old Monty Python, “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” with respect to NAFTA (reportedly signaling to the Canadians that he did not mean what he was saying in public) has raised legitimate questions about the competence of Obama’s foreign policy and economic team. If you can’t manage the Canadians how are you going to handle the North Koreans, Iranians, and Chinese for pete’s sake?
The original report by CTV.CA was substantively correct but had some glaring factual errors. According to the initial report:
Within the last month, a top staff member for Obama’s campaign telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, and warned him that Obama would speak out against NAFTA, according to Canadian sources.
The staff member reassured Wilson that the criticisms would only be campaign rhetoric, and should not be taken at face value.
The heart of the issue was whether or not someone in a position of responsibility with the Presidential campaign of Barack Obama was telling the Government of Canada to not worry about Obama’s political rhetoric because he did not really mean to suggest he would dispense with NAFTA. The Obama campaign, after some initial floundering, counter-attacked with the following arguments:
- No one employed by the campaign called the Canadian Embassy.
- No one employed by the campaign spoke with the Canadian Ambassador.
And Obama’s campaign was correct. They had not “called” the Canadians and no one on the Obama “payroll” had spoken with the Canadian Ambassador.
But then the actual memo from the meeting emerged from the bowels of the Canadian bureaucracy. WHOOPS! There goes the Obama “new” politics image.
FIRST POINT–Austan Goolsbee has an important role in Obama’s campaign team.
Let’s start with Austan Goolsbee. It is true that he is not a campaign official. Nope, he’s a top member of Obama’s economic team. Why parse words and try to pretend that Goolsbee is some strap hanger, wannabee who has no substantive role with Obama’s quest for the Presidency? By parsing this fact, Obama and his team are playing the same kind of game the Bush Administration did in declaring Valerie Plame was not a “covert” agent or Bill Clinton insisting that oral sex was not sex. Americans on average recognize parsing for what it is–inelegant lying.
Who is Goolsbee?
Goolsbee told the New York Times on 8 November 2007 that:
‘He [Obama] and I saw eye-to-eye on economic stuff.’ Among all the senior economic advisers in both parties, only Mr. Goolsbee, a relative newcomer to politics, spoke on the record and without advance clearance. Ask him how he got his position with Mr. Obama’s campaign, and he cites friends in common who steered the candidate and the economist toward each other at the University of Chicago, where both taught. Mr. Obama was running for the Senate at the time. ‘He and I saw eye-to-eye on economic stuff,” said Mr. Goolsbee, who describes himself as a centrist.” [NYT, 11/8/07]
Goolsbee is the Senior Economic Advisor to the Obama campaign. He is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a Fulbright Scholar. The Financial Times named him one of the six Gurus of the Future/Best Under 40 in 2005, and the World Economic Forum in Switzerland chose him one as one of the 2005 Young Global Leaders. He received his Master’s Degree in Economics from Yale in 1991 and his Ph.D. in the same subject in 1995 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Note, Goolsbee is not just “A” economic advisor to Obama. He is “THE SENIOR” economic advisor. Remember, Obama says that words matter. So Goolsbee’s designation as the senior advisor means he has an important role in helping Senator Obama define his proposed economic positions.
Second point–The Government of Canada, through its Chicago Consulate, contacted Goolsbee.
Although the Canadians called Goolsbee (and not the other way around) this does not make Obama’s hypocrisy problem go away. Why would the Canadian Consulate call Goolsbee? Very simple. The Government of Canada wanted to get some insight into the thinking behind Barack Obama’s economic policies. What’s the best way to do this? Ask the SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISOR. Duh! Even Homer Simpson could figure this one out.
So, why the Chicago consulate? Because Goolsbee lives in Chicago, it fell upon the Canadian Consulate in Chicago to reach out to him. That is what foreign diplomats do. They get out and meet people, especially people who are likely to have some influence or important position in a future government. That is what U.S. diplomats do overseas–they meet with aspiring Presidential candidates and their advisors.
Third point–The Government of Canada, through its consulate, produces a report of the meeting that is sent back to the Foreign Ministry and distributed throughout the Canadian Government.
So Austan Goolsbee shows up at the Canadian consulate and meets with the Consul General, Georges Rioux and a junior Canadian diplomat, Joseph Demora. When a senoir diplomat meets with someone like Goolsbee, he or she almost always has a note taker with them to record who says what. That unpleasant task fell to Joseph Demora. When the meeting is over, Joseph Demora’s work started. He went back to his desk and wrote up who said what. Once he completed his memo (folks at the U.S. State Department would call this a “cable”) he submitted it to Consul General Rioux. Consul General Rioux reviewed the memo/cable. He would not sign off on it unless it accurately reflected what was said and what was heard.
According to the memo/cable, Goolsbee told the Canadians in Chicago:
that the debate over free trade in the Democratic presidential primary campaign was ”political positioning” and that Obama was not really protectionist.
Goolsbee may be a dandy economist but he is a fool when it comes to dealing with foreign officials. His stupid denial that the Canadians are misquoting him ignores the process how such messages are generated. It was not just the opinion of DeMora. It was the consensus view of Demora and Rioux that Goolsbee made such claims.
On a scale of one to ten this is probably a three on the issue but it is an eight in what it tells us about the true nature of the Obama campaign. Remember, Goolsbee was front and center on the eve of the so-called Potomac primaries touting Barack Obama’s economic vision. He was not some kooky academic strap hanger trying to catch some of the glory streaming from the Democrats’ new Messiah. He was and is a policy player for Barack.
It does not matter whether Obama told Goolsbee what to say to the Canadians. The fact of the matter is that Goolsbee had been tabbed as one of the people who will help craft, explain, and implement the economic policy of a President Obama.
But did Obama and his folks come clean? Hell no. So you Obama disciples, go blow your smoke about this new and different candidate up someone else’s pant leg (I hear Chris Matthew’s could still use a tingle). Barack and his team are playing an old game. And Barack and his team of foreign policy amateurs were exposed as inept. They may run a terrific campaign. But governing and managing foreign policy is not the same as campaigning. Hopefully they will learn something about dealing with Canada from this dust up. If not, just imagine the mayhem they can create with Iran or the Chinese.
And to end on an upbeat note, here is the Monty Python skit I referenced.