One way to better understand what’s really going on with U.S. trade politics — as opposed to what politicians and their backers say is happening at any given moment — is to appreciate the many ironies. Especially the ironies of Buy American trade policies that have failed to deliver as promised by President Barack Obama and two top union leaders who worked overtime in 2008 to put their man in the Oval Office, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka and Leo Gerard, the president of the United Steelworkers. These are perhaps the three most ardent advocates of economic nationalism in America. Aiming to please the pro-tariff labor wing of his Democratic Party, Obama has put the AFL-CIO’s trade agenda front-and-center. This is the first irony. A president who promised to change lobby-driven business as usual in Washington has basically turned over his international trade policies (and much else) to the labor lobby.

“I don’t want to buy stuff from someplace else,” Obama declared in a Sept. 6, 2010 Labor Day appearance in Milwaukee that set the tone as the Democrats prepared for the Nov. 2 midterm elections. “I want to grow our exports so that we’re selling to someplace else — products that say ‘Made in the U.S.A.'” Sharing the stage, the AFL-CIO’s Trumka agreed, railing against unpatriotic corporations that ship jobs overseas, offering that the elections would be about “economic patriotism.” Elsewhere on Labor Day, USW President Gerard — a man who last year accused Washington international trade lawyers whose clients import tires from China of being “traitors” to their country — called for “punishing predator countries” like China that “subvert fair trade.”

The unions pulled out all the usual stops to influence the Nov. 2 voting. “USW activists distributed 1.6 million leaflets at work sites, while making 745,240 phone calls in union halls across America to active and retired members,” Gerard boasted in a statement on election day. “In addition, local union volunteers knocked on more than 350,000 doors in the final weeks of the campaign where our members live.”(Here is another irony. Gerard is a Canadian citizen, a native of Ontario. Last year the USW chief told reporter Ann Belser of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he refuses to become an American, for fear of losing his Canadian health care. Gerard declines further comment for this article.) Read the rest of this article »