Obama in the Passive Voice

John Nichols of The Nation writes:

In her interview with the candidate, Fortune‘s Nina Easton reminded Obama that earlier this year he had called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake” and suggested that he would use an opt-out clause in the trade agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico to demand changes that would be more favorable to workers and farmers in all three countries.

Obama replied that, “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified” — which would have been enough of an indication that he was backing off the stance that contributed significantly to his success in the February 19 Wisconsin primary that proved to be a critical turning point for his campaign.

But surely someone is doing the overheating and amplifying? To his credit, Obama concedes that he is guilty of misrepresenting his views to win over Wisconsin voters. Sort of.

“Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don’t exempt myself,” he continued, suggesting that those who doubted his sincerity when he denounced NAFTA in a speech to Janesville, Wisconsin, autoworkers might have been right.

Matt Yglesias forcefully objected to Sebastian Mallaby’s projection of free trading views onto candidate Obama earlier this month.

To me, though, the widespread belief among Obamaphilic free traders that he doesn’t really mean what he says about trade policy is a curious phenomenon. …

But Obama’s trade-skeptical rhetoric is perfectly consistent with his record. Admittedly, it’s a pretty short record. And maybe he doesn’t mean what he’s saying. Or maybe he does mean it, but could be talked out of it once in the White House. But maybe not! Really, who among us is in any position to say? But he’s a charismatic guy, so people see what they want to see.

And in fact, Matt’s analysis holds up pretty well. It’s just that trade skeptics are the ones who’ve gotten rolled by Obama’s charisma, which, of course, is a familiar predicament for them.

This reminds me of Dayo Olapade’s terrific post on Obama and Iraq.

should Obama (or McCain or Petraeus, for that matter) do the evaluative, sensible thing on Iraq—of which Zebari’s “reassurance” suggests Obama is capable—I anticipate the feeding frenzy to comprise cries of “betrayal!” from the left and “oho!” from the right. Or vice versa. A lucid debate over the well-being of our stature in the world and our troops in Iraq will be utter afterthoughts. This is where our punitive politics naturally leads.

I don’t mean this to be an “oho!” If Obama does do the evaluative, sensible thing, I pledge not to say “oho!,” but rather, “oh wow!” My hope is that Iraq will become a less partisan issue, and that the emerging consensus concerning progress in Iraq (a) continues to be vindicated by events (um, that’s pretty important) and (b) deepens and extends as a result.

I can’t get myself too worked up about the prospects of an Obama victory. Perhaps that will change as peer dynamics take hold, or if Obama wilts under the pressure of a sustained, tough campaign. Power changes hands in a democracy. But I agree with Obama: he shouldn’t be held to an ill-conceived Iraq strategy devised under very different circumstances, and he shouldn’t be punished for wanting to preserve his options. Trade, on the other hand, is not an issue for which the empirical terrain has changed over the past year and a half. Actually, it’s changed in that shipping costs have skyrocketed, thus making at least some kinds of domestic manufacturing more viable in a not-too-significant way And that’s where Obama seems to be acknowledging, “refreshingly,” some will surely say, that he was engaging in straightforwardly cynical politicking.