In the escalating war over who is the bigger flip-flopper, John McCain's campaign used his speech today to the Economic Club of Canada to accuse Barack Obama of double-talk on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trying to outdo Hillary Clinton in appealing to union voters during the Democratic primaries, Obama said he would reopen NAFTA so that it was more favorable to US workers. “I will make sure that we renegotiate in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about, and I think actually Senator Clinton’s answer on this one is right. I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced,” he said during a February debate in Ohio.
But McCain's camp points to an interview in the upcoming issue of Fortune magazine where Obama said he would not unilaterally renegotiate NAFTA, saying "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.'
"For months, Barack Obama said that he would ‘make sure that we renegotiate’ NAFTA, demanded unilateral changes and threatened to unilaterally withdraw if he did not get his way. Barack Obama knew better. America has not had a protectionist president since Herbert Hoover, but Barack Obama held his position anyway to further his cynical political purposes in the primary campaign," McCain said in a statement issued by his campaign. "Now he claims: ‘I’m not a big believer in doing things unilaterally.’ Barack Obama should know words matter -- especially in a campaign based on rhetoric rather than a record of accomplishment. The American people and our allies deserve better than calculated efforts to re-invent positions to sound less irresponsible.”
In his speech in Toronto, McCain said that opposition to NAFTA is "nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls," and vowed that if he's elected, "have no doubt that America will honor its international commitments -- and we will expect the same of others," according to the Associated Press.
In response, the Obama campaign organized a conference call with Governors Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Ted Strickland of Ohio, and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who all asserted that a McCain presidency would continue the Bush administration's failed trade policies.
"Instead of delivering a speech from Ottawa, Canada, Senator McCain should visit Ottawa, Ohio, where the Phillips plant closed," Brown said in a statement issued by the AFL-CIO. "We need trade policies that create new jobs at home, not ship them to Mexico. We need a new direction, not a third Bush term."
UPDATE: Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee today filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department over what Democrats call possible violations of the Hatch Act in connection to McCain's events in Canada. The DNC cites media reports that McCain campaign officials requested assistance in arranging a $100-a-plate luncheon from US Ambassador David Wilkins. Under the Hatch Act, US government officials are banned from any partisan activities while on foreign soil.
"By apparently running afoul of the Hatch Act during his trip to Canada today, it appears that Senator McCain is once again putting his political aspirations ahead of following the law," said DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney. "Between his refusal to pay for his campaign's use of a corporate jet and his illegally attempting to withdraw from the primary funds program, this is becoming a disturbing pattern of impropriety on the part of Senator McCain and his campaign. How can the American people trust John McCain if he is unwilling to follow the law when it gets in the way of his political aspirations?"
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.