Rahm Emanuel and trade — there’s hope

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) has accepted President-elect Barack Obama’s offer to serve as his chief of staff in the White House. Depending on the relationship, that position can be a crucial one for the president — the role can encompass being a top advisor to the POTUS, helping to set priorities and devise strategies for policy initiatives, serving as gatekeeper, building Congressional support, etc.

Emanuel, the fourth ranking Democrat in the House, is known for being sharp, savvy, strategic, and combative. He’s a new Democrat who served in the Clinton Administration and is allied in philosophy with the progressive Democratic Leadership Council and its affiliate, the Progressive Policy Institute, which has strongly supported free trade. He had notable success in increasing the number of Democrats in Congress in his role as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

While Emanuel has introduced legislation and has taken strong positions in support of social programs — government-run health insurance, educational subsidies — as well as subsidies for alternative energy sources, he also has been a strong supporter of more open trade and helped guide NAFTA through Congress during the Clinton years.

Emanuel can be quite eloquent when he talks about trade and globalization — together with his view of the need to buttress taxpayer-financed social programs so the middle-class isn’t disaffected:.

When people talk about trade, they are never talking about trade.  They are never talking about trade.  They are talking about their health care, their incomes, and their retirement security.  You go to a John Deere plant, here in Illinois, everyone of these workers know that one out of three of their tractors are destined for an overseas market, so their job is tied to trade.  Yet, it’s the most vehemently opposed workforce to globalization.  Why?

If you talk to them, just listen.  They are worried about losing their health care.  They are worried about losing their good paying job.  And they are worried about losing their retirement security.  It’s not about trade, it’s about everything else that trade affects, that every trade discussion is about.  And that’s why we have to come up – for those of us who believe that globalization has been a net positive -we have to come up with an agenda, that deals with and helps advance the ability of globalization to continue down the path of success.

He’s likely to be a formidable force in the White House — let’s hope he uses some of that force to get trade issues back on track.