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Carlson Tucker Carlson is a CNN political analyst and contributes to The Weekly Standard and Talk magazines. He is providing exclusive analysis to CNN during the election season.

Tucker Carlson: China vote creates political winners

May 26, 2000
Web posted at: 10:34 a.m. EDT (1434 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Minutes after the House of Representatives voted this week to lift the remaining restrictions on trade with China, Republicans on Capitol Hill began spinning the results: The president may have won the vote he wanted, they told reporters, but the vote was not a win for the president.

"How is this a big victory for Clinton?" groused one GOP staffer. "He delivered almost nobody. A sitting president brings in only a third of the Democratic caucus. This is a major achievement?"

Strictly speaking, the Republicans have a point. Only 72 Democrats took Clinton's side on the bill, not a lot considering how hard the White House worked to turn out votes. On the other hand, it doesn't matter. Ten years from now, no one will remember how much the bill passed by, only that it passed. The legislation will forever be associated with Bill Clinton, no matter how many Republicans voted for it. Will the China bill tarnish or burnish Clinton's legacy? That will depend on whether it achieves what Clinton claims it will.

The obvious benefit of freer trade with China is that it will open an enormous new market to American companies -- in other words, that it will be good for business. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. But it's not how Clinton sold the bill to Congress and the public.

Instead, Clinton argued that free trade will bring other freedoms to China -- that the exchange of goods with the United States will lead to the exchange of ideas, and that China's leaders will be forced to acknowledge the superiority of an open society. The trade bill, Clinton argued, is in fact a great stride forward for human rights.

Whether or not this will turn out to be true, it was a clever and politically useful argument. Among other things, it gave cover to Republicans who otherwise would have felt compelled to oppose the bill on moral grounds.

Consider House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, for example. One of the strangest images of the week had to be DeLay, nobody's leftie, waxing enthusiastic about legislation that will enrich a Marxist dictatorship. That's not the way DeLay put it, of course. "He believes this is an opportunity to export American values into the heart of a Communist tyranny," explains his communications director, Jonathan Baron. "He sees it as part of a larger strategy to destroy communism."

Many other Republicans made the same point. Tellingly, the party's ideologues didn't buy it. Look at the vote tallies by state and you'll notice a pattern. In the Georgia delegation, conservative Bob Barr opposed the bill, while moderate Johnny Isakson supported it. Among Florida Republicans, Mark Foley came out for it, while Lincoln Diaz-Balart was dead set against.

The conservatives made a compelling, principled case. They called attention to the use of slave labor in China, as well as to the almost total lack of civil liberties there. They pointed out that as China has grown prosperous it has become more, not less bellicose in its stand toward Taiwan. And they warned that greater foreign investment in China will lead inevitably to a stronger, more threatening Chinese military. But the conservatives -- like Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader and the bill's other opponents -- found themselves on the losing side of a larger trend.

Bill Clinton's real legacy is that he has allowed America to stop feeling guilty about capitalism. American businessmen are about to make a lot of money selling goods to a totalitarian state. Thanks to Clinton, they can feel like reformers as they do it.



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Friday, May 26, 2000


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