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

Obama softens NAFTA rhetoric

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/16/art.obama.handout.jpg caption="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. Independent

    So what other promises is he softening or backing away from now he got the nomination?

    June 19, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  2. John Gio

    And the Obama flip-flops begin

    June 19, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  3. Larry

    Look at this, he gets the nod and already he is backing away from things he said that got him here. He is no differant then any other politician in Washington.

    June 19, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  4. Lisa in OH

    I can not believe anyone who supports Obama is still falling for his boatload of LIES. I have watched his backstabbing, word twisting campaign of "change" very closely. The EUPHORIA is the only "change" he's offering. You HAVE to be kidding me that people are stil buying! Since the primaries are over, it's almost comical to watch him change direction like the wind. Sorry, YOU ARE BEING PLAYED!

    I'll give Obama this: he and his people are BRILLIANT when it comes to PR and polititcs in general. But, I'm here to tell ya folks...if you think things are going to be "different" from here on out if Obama wins his White House bid, think again.

    Here's a kicker for ya. I'm a BLACK FEMALE...and I'm NOT on board with Obama. Should be interesting to see things unfolding the next few months.

    June 19, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  5. Dirk

    "whatever I said during the primary season no longer counts!"

    June 19, 2008 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  6. Dan in Sacramento, CA

    Well, at least his camp didn't call call the Harper administration before Ohio to say "take HIllary's words with a grain of salt", as his chief of staff, Ian Brodie, described Clinton's camp as doing.

    What I remember his saying about NAFTA is "we reserve the right to opt-out if changes don't happen." This article doesn't indicate to me that he's done a 180.

    June 19, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  7. Patrick Henry, Fort Myers

    What–he's changing his views (again).
    What a suprise–not.

    Charlatan, weak, and NOT the right guy for the top job.

    June 19, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  8. William, from Cali!

    When it comes to politicans; they are only as good, as their "last words" spoken. The only constant is "Change"; and that can be for better or worst...............depending on, who is speaking and who is listening............................. basic Double-talk 101...............

    June 19, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  9. Vanessa

    Hmm...I am an ardent supporter of Sen. Obama but I have to admit I don't like the sound of this. There was nothing wrong with his previous statement. He will be our president not the president for the Canadian and Mexican government. Sorry the corporate powers at be don't like the idea but NAFTA has not been good for Mexican farmers and has indeed contributed to illegal immigration because rural workers who usually work on farms have no work in their country. We can figure out something that works for everyone, just take away greed and add a little intelligence and determination.

    June 19, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  10. dave

    This guy sure can talk a lot. Unfortunately, you can't believe one word of it. How many times has he waffled so far?

    Please bring Hillary back!

    June 19, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  11. Generation X



    Charlotte = GOP
    Brian TN = GOP
    Jim PA = GOP
    Staunch Hillary Supporter = GOP
    Belle = stupid GOP
    Karen FL = GOP


    June 19, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  12. Jon

    Yet another example of a candidate doing an about-face after the primaries to appear more moderate and less liberal/conservative for the general election. It just goes to show that this campaign and election year will be just like all the others.

    June 19, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  13. Kim

    like we didn't already know that this would happen. what a joke!!

    June 19, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  14. The Truth

    LIAR !!!


    What a friggin lying peice of sh&t !!!

    June 19, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  15. ps

    Ah, so now his answers to questions were not really what he meant to say? But, just campaign rhetoric?


    Sounds like OLD politics to me – say what it takes to convince the crowd that's in attendance.

    June 19, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  16. Nick

    Isn't this exactly what Canada said he told them, and then he vehemently denied? Why anything thinks they'll get change voting for either of the two parties mystifies me.

    June 19, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  17. James B. New Jersey

    Sound like Canada is ready to make some consession on NAFTA already. I guess they see that Obama is going to be president.

    "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."

    June 19, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  18. Phil Newton, Murphy OR

    This is not a position I favor.

    NAFTA needs renegotiation. We need fair trade, not so-called "Free" trade.

    Re-think this one again, Mister President.

    OBAMA 08

    June 19, 2008 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
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