From the Fact Check Desk: Clinton’s Out-of-Context NAFTA Mailer

By Jennifer Parker

Feb 26, 2008 12:03pm

Having previously taken a gander at the misleading mailer on NAFTA sent to Ohioans by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, we’ll now take a look at the misleading mailer on NAFTA sent to Ohioans by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY.

(You can read her mailer HERE.)

"Ohio needs to know the truth about Obama’s position on Protecting American Workers and NAFTA,” the Clinton mailer reads. "It’s all on the Record.”

But what she offers is certainly not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The quotes about Obama and NAFTA she uses are completely out of context.

The quotes are from Associated Press and the Herald & Review of Decatur, Ill., coverage of a debate about trade between Obama and his 2004 Senate opponent, Alan Keyes, who wanted to withdraw from trade deals. They attempt to portray Obama as a NAFTA supporter.

"Obama said the United States should continue to work with the World Trade Organization and pursue deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement,” the AP quotes says in the Clinton mailer – but Clinton has cut the AP quote off mid-sentence.

The full AP quote says: Democrat Obama said Keyes’ ideas could lead to trade wars that would harm farmers, who are always looking for new markets willing to buy American crops. He said the United State should continue to work with the World Trade Organization and pursue deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the country must be more aggressive about protecting American interests. ‘We don’t want to set off trade wars. What we want to make sure of is that our farmers are treated fairly,’ Obama said. ‘The problem in a lot of our trade agreements is that the administration tends to negotiate on behalf of multinational companies instead of workers and communities.’”

Changes the meaning a tad, yes?

Clinton also quotes selectively from the Herald & Review, taking only this part: "Obama said the United States benefits enormously from exports under the WTO and NAFTA."

The full context is The Herald & Review quote states: "The candidates’ views differed slightly on the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Keyes said he is not fond of the WTO and believes the United States has given away nearly half its negotiating clout on trade issues by entering into multilateral arrangements such as the WTO and NAFTA. He said powerful competitors can hide behind the veil of group interest and get more favorable treatment than if they were negotiating with America one-on-one.

"While some people believe NAFTA has been good for U.S. farmers, the trade results could have been better, Keyes said. NAFTA negotiators said the United States might lose manufacturing jobs but would become a service economy, but now those service jobs also are being exported, he said.

"Obama said the United States benefits enormously from exports under the WTO and NAFTA. He said, at the same time, there must be recognition that the global economy has shifted, and the United States is no longer the dominant economy.

"’We have competition in world trade,’ Obama said. ‘When China devalues its currency 40 percent, we need to bring a complaint before the WTO just as other nations complain about us. If we are to be competitive over the long term, we need free trade but also fair trade.’"

So it’s fairly clear that Clinton excerpts the stories unfairly, without the full context. That becomes even more clear when you read Obama’s full quote from the 2004 event that these two stories are based on.

Asked if he supported rolling back NAFTA or GATT, Obama said, "I would support restructuring NAFTA and GATT to make sure that environmental protections, labor protections and so on are in place. And I also think that we’ve got to enforce some of these provisions more aggressively, the same way other countries are doing. I use the example of China. If China is devaluing its currency by 40 percent and we are not challenging them on that, then there’s not much point of having China in the WTO, if they’re not respecting our trademarks and our copyright laws. If we have countries that continue to present barriers to us – non-tariff barriers – to our products getting to market, then those are all issues that I think we’ve got to challenge these countries on. And that’s the responsibility of the Administration. The problem in a lot of our trade agreements is that the Administration tends to negotiate on behalf of multinational companies instead of on behalf of workers and communities. If we had a shift in orientation in terms of who are we negotiating for, then I think you’d see some different outcomes."

The Clinton mailer also states: "FALSE ATTACK ALERT: DON’T BE FOOLED BE BARACK OBAMA. Yet again Barack Obama has misrepresented the truth about Hillary’s record to hide his own. The Politico called Obama’s mail ‘bogus.’ American workers can’t afford Barack Obama."

What Politico’s Ben Smith called “bogus” (HERE) is what we’ve also taken issue with, Obama giving the impression that Clinton called NAFTA a “boon” when it fact that was New York Newsday’s language paraphrasing what Clinton thought.

That is bogus of the Obama campaign to have done, but as Smith goes on to note, “It’s actually pretty hard to figure out where Clinton was, personally, on Nafta in the 1990s.”

Factcheck.org finds this Clinton NAFTA mailer “somewhat misleading” (HERE) since it “gives less than the whole truth.”

I agree with their analysis – what do you think?

- jpt

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