June 19th, 2008
11:20 AM ET
7 years ago

Obama softens NAFTA rhetoric

Sen. Obama had strong words for NAFTA in February and March.
Sen. Obama had strong words for NAFTA in February and March.

(CNN) - Before the Ohio primary in March, the battle between Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton morphed into a fierce debate over free trade – a clash that seemed to hinge on which candidate could appear more anti-NAFTA.

Now, in an interview with Fortune magazine, Obama appears to backing off his tough talk on trade.

"Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," Obama told Fortune.

Obama has consistently described him himself a free-trader at heart, but the heightened rhetoric on NAFTA put forth by both he and Clinton opened the Democrats up to accusations of political pandering from Republicans and editorial boards.

In February, Obama said during a presidential debate in Cleveland that job losses brought about by NAFTA were "devastating on the community." He told the Associated Press that same month that "I don't think NAFTA has been good for America, and I never have."

Fortune asked Obama if his trade rhetoric was "overheated and amplified."

"Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," Obama responded.

In the interview, Obama did emphasize that "there are costs to free trade" and that "can't pretend that those costs aren't real." Obama said job losses caused by free trade feed "the protectionist sentiment and the anti-immigration sentiment that is out there in both parties."

Obama also walked back his threat in February to unilaterally renegotiate NAFTA.

"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," Obama said, adding that he had just spoken to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who expressed concern about the free trade debate in February and March. "I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people."

Obama's rival John McCain travels to Ottawa tomorrow, but Harper will be out of town, according to reports.


Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Hillary Clinton • John McCain • Ohio
soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Peg, Findlay, Ohio

    Politics as usual

    June 19, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  2. Jon

    For someone who is not a political "insider", he sure seems to be willing to categorize himself as a "typical" politician.

    June 19, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  3. Texas Trail Dog

    UH OH! boy that didn't last long did it? The man of change is just the same old, same old, same old, piece of bad manure running for public office. Boy can you AAs and DNC pick um.

    June 19, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  4. mama4obama

    NAFTA can only work if trade is equal betwen all that are involved. That is simply not the case as of right now and that is also why Americans continue to lose jobs to countries like Mexico, China and the like. Cheap labor. Our country is not designed to live on cheap labor.

    June 19, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  5. Craig D

    Another Obama FLIP FLOP....just like PUBLIC FUNDING.

    Obama/ Kerry '08
    Yes, We Are Cons

    June 19, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  6. bob in L.A.

    Obama will be changing alot that he said during the primaries. First it is logical as he becomes educated on issues and second, it is the trait of a seasoned politician.
    And while he may not have the experience to be our leader, he is a professional politian!

    June 19, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  7. Tejano

    FLIP FLOP FLIP FLOP. Just another Kerry in the making. First I was for NAFTA, Then I was Against it cause it suited my campaign, But now I am for it, Next week we will see how the political winds blow.

    AFL-CIO, You are making a mistake in endorsing Obama. He does not have the interests of your members at heart. NAFTA was and continues to be a big mistake and all of us on the border know this.
    Our jobs have moved to Mexico and they will never come back.

    Ross Perot was right. "That giant sucking sound you hear is your jobs going to Mexico."

    June 19, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  8. richard

    I'm an obama supporter, but i don't like this going back and forth for the sake of politics.

    However, mccain is far worse.

    June 19, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  9. Donald

    So he said it to get elected... thats not change thats bussiness as usual same with the campain finance dont get me wrong ill vote for him but hes now our party leader he needs to keep his word sence words are so important.

    June 19, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  10. Bishop

    More honesty from the Obama Camp....
    McCain, take note...

    June 19, 2008 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  11. Lynn

    I think people need to learn the difference between having a nuanced view and flip-flopping. Clarifying your stand on complicated issue shows insight. Reversing your positions to pander to your base (I'm looking at you, McCain) is a flip-flop.

    Wow, a President who can see all sides of an issue? That's be *awful*!! Oh noes!!

    Get ready for an adult in the White House.

    June 19, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  12. Brian Knoxville, TN

    OBAMA-FLIP. OBAMA-FLOP.
    FLIP, FLOP.
    FLIP, FLOP.
    OBAMA DOES THE FLIP, FLOP.

    Puma PAC RULES!

    June 19, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  13. CD

    Now let the spinners cry out loud that he is backing off his earlier promise you losers. Obama is simple advocating for a rational approach to make sure that Free trade works for all Americans by negotiating with the countries involved so Americans don't lose their jobs. I can't wait for the idiots in this blog to post!

    June 19, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  14. CWatson

    Obama has been consistent for a long time on being for free trade – long before his campagn started. Obama has also been consistent with his complaints about the flaws in NAFTA. I don't think those complaints and concerns are going away anytime soon and will get revisited. As Canadian environmental, safety and employement laws are similar to the US, I think Mexico is the country with more at stake to even the playing field with the US.

    June 19, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  15. Bishop

    "I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people."

    You see, for ALL people...not just the wealthy...

    June 19, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  16. Disappointed Democrat

    Is Obama for real? I can't believe he is backtracking on his promise to renegotiate NAFTA. Overheated and amplified rhetoric? Is he so full of it. He made those promises to get votes. Now that he got the votes he is telling those hard working union people to stick it. I hope union people tell Obama where to stick it in November. Obama is turning into a bigger liar than Bubba. Maybe he is there already.

    June 19, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  17. Bill From Florida

    This man is unreal. He is flip flopping on everything..

    He is going to do the same thing if he is elected President,

    he can NEVER fulfill all of his promises. I will NEVER vote for him.

    HILLARY OR MCCAIN

    June 19, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  18. gary

    Boy .You all must think O.B. is the second coming. What a joke. He think he can make a speech and it will change the world. America better start getting real. O.b. has you all living in a fantasy world. America gets what they ask for.

    June 19, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  19. Tony

    This guy is sleazy. The rhetoric only got amplified because you are trying to buy a job.

    June 19, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  20. jr

    Fortune asked Obama if his trade rhetoric was "overheated and amplified."

    "Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," Obama responded.

    ______________________________________________________

    Well, Duh!
    So now we begin to see that the content of his message is in reality flawed. He now even admits he's actually a politician willing to say whatever it takes to get a vote. I hope all of you voters in the Rust Belt are listening very closely? He is not your messiah. He is just another politcal hack puppet whos' strings are being pulled by his handlers in Chicago. This is beginning to sound more and more like a, do as I say, not as I do candidacy.

    June 19, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  21. R.I.F.

    Is John McCain still alive? John and Cindy and go around and say and do whatever they please and no one covers it. Barack and Michelle Obama accidently coughs on someone and there are tickers on the website and panels in the studio to debate the political fallout of coughing on someone. How about a ticker about McCain's ties to lobbyies for the Enron Loophole which has help speculators drive up the cost of oil?

    June 19, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  22. Why try 08

    There goes Ohio.

    June 19, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  23. Jaime

    Wow, Obama is flip-flopping on everything today. How can we trust him?

    June 19, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  24. Sharon Minnesota

    The truth always comes out. Hopefully, not too late for our country. Expose' before November 08.

    June 19, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  25. Speechless

    Sen. Obama's reversals on policy positions are coming fast and furious. How many more can Americans take before we reject him?

    June 19, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
1 2 3 4 5