June 19th, 2008
11:20 AM ET
10 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. Vote Nader

    I've been told he isn't a typical politician. Then he says he is. Someone help me out.


    ** Nader/Gonzalez 2008 **

    June 19, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. Clinton/McCain

    Flip flop # 205 for Obama and counting!!!!

    June 19, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  3. Will in Richmond, VA

    Obama seems like a pretty tough politician, certainly different, but definitely tough and definitely a politician. We all know we are operating in an increasingly globalized economy. We Americans need to be more competitive in our trade, goods, services, education, etc. NAFTA is just the start. We certainly won't be going back the way we came.

    Campaign talk vs. reality is on display here. Stump speech posterboarding vs. the real nitty-gritty. All issues are not just black and white.

    June 19, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. bob from California

    Obama has to stop this pandering to try to appeal to more people and he has to stop his flip flopping NOW! I am a diehard supporter of Obama, but he is losing my respect daily first with not letting the two muslim women sit there and then with this. Well he's better than the alternative and he's better than almost any president we've had to this day except maybe JFK or Roosevelt but he has to stop changing his mind.

    June 19, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  5. Joe Six

    After all of his statements trashing NAFTA, Obama is now playing Democrats for fools.

    June 19, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. Pat Riot

    Change? Nope. Just the same old flip-flopping. I'm sure the labor unions will love this.

    June 19, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. Jim

    Man of honesty, and purity, it take's a lot to admit something like this! He will use his best judgement on NAFTA and other type's of trade deals and this is another example of his great honesty with the people. I think he is saying that he will step back and look into it and make sure he has the people's best intentions in mind!

    June 19, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  8. john fom LA

    This guy is amazing-FLIP FLOP-just like his stance on EVERYTHING-like campaign finace today-yesterday he was going to take the $-now No-Sounds just like Kerry 4 years ago. Which ever the wind blows-he'll go.

    From a skeptical Independent

    June 19, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  9. Quinn

    How many pairs of flip flops does this guy have?

    Looks like he fooled 18 million & more during the primary! Always having to come out the next day & try to re-spin his spin.

    June 19, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  10. Alice

    I need to hear more. I don't like the way CNN is portraying this story.

    June 19, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  11. politics

    FAKE! FAKE! He is always fake!

    June 19, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  12. m.c.

    Have people noticed the sudden drop in postings from Hillary Democrats??? For us, the election is over. Who cares what Obama believes??? He is a left-winger who espouses ideas that are detrimental to this country. If Hillary does not still get the nomination at the convention, then we go for McCain!!!!

    June 19, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  13. Rob

    wow. i think nothing to say about his flip flopping. i am a big supporter of the NAFTA. this was also something I totally disagreed with Hillary but at the end this is what people like to hear and this is what politician say. OLD GAME.

    rob from NC

    June 19, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  14. Catty

    In some circles, this is called pandering, in others it's flip-flopping, or "political posturing".

    Here's the funny thing. When a republican does this, it's the end of the world...when Obama does this, it's brushed off everyone's shoulders. Too bad democrats can't even live up to the standards THEY set.

    June 19, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  15. Gary Mutir

    So what`s next Obama supporters?What is it that he stands for that you are so proud of?What`s that??I can`t hearrrrr yooouuu!And you call everyone idiots for not supporting him,who are the idiots now?You have been told from the beginng that he`s just nothing but rhetoric,he just cares about speaking and people cheering after him.He doesn`t have anything realistic to offer.He doesn`t even know how he is gonna pay for his healthcare plan,he just realized he can`t just end the war because he says so.Change huh?What change?No wonder he sent his advisor to tell the Canadians that he was just pandering.

    Now he tones down the rhetoric after telling the country that businesses are stealing their money.Unions do not create jobs and poor people do not create jobs.And you are the ones that are educated?Really?Turns out you left school,you also left behind what you learned there.Educated voters my foot!

    Again,what is it that he has to offer?What are you voting for.I will not accept 'we need change ' as an naswer.

    McCain '08

    June 19, 2008 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  16. AJ

    Here we go again! Say one thing when it is politically expedient and then say something else down the road. How is this "change?" Sounds like the same old crap to me.

    June 19, 2008 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  17. Ula Nejad- Sacramento Ca

    Refuses public money, refuses NAFTA, refuses race (25 year Muslim woman and lawyer denied seat behind Obama event in Michigan and later campaign apologies) and blah blah about his wife's SWAT team on the campaign tratil...Lordi!........is he suffering from withdrawl symptoms?

    June 19, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  18. SAM2008

    Do you remember when his adviser went to the Canadian to tell thim don't worry about NAFTA its all politics so he was not lying.
    and every moron in this country attacked CLINTON now look what happen OBAMA changed his position already, we will see what will happen about Iraq when he is the president, or about oil companies or health care, so you already lied.
    at least we know where is McCain stands for but you I think every thing you have said before all lies and GOD help us if you are the president, you not saying the truth now who will stop you from doing this when you are the president.
    you were against NAFTA and you attacked CLINTON for that now you are with NAFTA.
    you against the war YOU know when you are in the white-house you will change, MARK MY WORDS.
    i am not against OBAMA but against every body lies i am against McCain but he is saying the truth thats why i like him.
    Do you re

    June 19, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  19. Sandy - PA

    Two of the biggest reasons I opposed Hillary Clinton were:
    1) She brought the #1 outsourcer of US jobs to India into NY and gave them a sweetheart deal.
    2) She supported and defended NAFTA under her husband's Administration.

    NAFTA and deals like it are hurting this economy, and at the same time, we continue to bleed jobs overseas and import millions of foreigners from other countries who come here for the sole purpose of taking jobs away from American workers.

    I applauded Obama for his tough stand on NAFTA and outsourcing. I will be extremely disappointed in him if he backs off that tough stance when these things are hurting this country and this economy so very much.

    June 19, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  20. Puzzled

    If I remember correctly, his original stance was to look at it and renegotiate parts of it that was not fair to the United States..... What's wrong with that? Please....replay the tape. I think I am correct.

    June 19, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  21. American

    John McBush is travelling to Ottawa, he traveled to Europe and the Middle East.......big question.....has he travelled yet to the midwest to give any kind of support to the flood victims....does he even know that there are disastrous floods happening in the midwest....afterall when Katrina happened he and his twin brother George Bush were sharing a birthday cake celebrating in another state!! Has George Bush made an appearance yet! At least the Republican party is showing that they are equal opportunity ignorers of both black and poor white peoples plight in this country!

    Pres. 2b Obama has gone and is even soliciting money on his website for aid to the flood victims. Now which of these men do you think deserves to run our country!

    Obama all the way!

    June 19, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  22. Anna, OH

    What a bloody flip flopper. Getting high and mighty on Clinton about this in Ohio! I hope the GOP takes him to school on this. This man is worse than John Kerry.

    June 19, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  23. Erika, KS

    Ha! I bet he has! He's changed his tune since Hillary was ousted? Flip floper? Oh, no, that only applies to the GOP. Hypocrite.

    June 19, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  24. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Well, this is one of those things that get blown up during debates and campaigns. I would have said that everything should be reviewed but not cancelled. It is the idea that everything needs to be looked over to make sure it is doing what it is supposed to be doing. Besides, I like FAIR trade rather than FREE trade. There is a difference.

    June 19, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  25. Chuck

    Flip Flop Obama again.

    June 19, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
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