Analistas 01/06/2015

With Trade Deal, ‘Trust Us’ Is Not Very Convincing

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But the administration - and the president himself - aren’t helping their position by being dismissive of complaints and lecturing the T.P.P.’s critics (Senator Elizabeth Warren in particular) about how they have no idea what they’re talking about. That would not be a smart strategy even if the administration had its facts completely straight - which it doesn’t. Instead, assurances about what is and isn’t in the deal keep turning out to be untrue. We were assured that the dispute settlement procedure couldn’t be used to force changes to domestic laws; actually, it apparently can. We were also told that the T.P.P. couldn’t be used to undermine financial reform; again, it appears that it can.

How important are these concerns? It’s hard to judge. But the administration is, in effect, saying “trust us,” then repeatedly bobbling questions about the deal in ways that undermine that very trust.

Hypocritical Sloth

Politico recently published a hit piece on Ms. Warren (read it here: politi.co/1Sn1cZq), which alleges that she’s being hypocritical in her opposition to a key aspect of the T.P.P.

The article is interesting in several ways. First, it was clearly based on information supplied by someone close to or inside the Obama administration - another illustration of the poisonous effect that the determination to sell the T.P.P. is having on the intellectual ethics of people on the president’s team. Second, the charge of hypocrisy is ludicrous nonsense: “You say you’re against allowing corporations to sue governments, yet you were a paid witness against a corporation that sued a government!” Um, what?

More generally, the whole affair is an illustration of the key role that laziness plays in bad journalism.

When is the charge of hypocrisy relevant? Basically, only when public figures are preaching about individual behavior, and perhaps holding themselves up as role models. So it’s fair to go after someone who publicly promotes morality but turns out to be a crook or a sexual predator. But articles alleging that someone’s personal choices are somehow hypocritical given their policy positions are almost always off base. Someone can declare that inequality is a problem while being personally rich - calling for policy change isn’t the same thing as calling for mass self-abnegation. And someone can declare that our judicial system is flawed while fighting cases as best he can within that system; until policy change happens, you have to live in the world as it is.

It’s also perfectly fine to advocate policies that would hurt one’s own financial interests - it’s just bizarre when the press suggests that there’s something suspect going on when high earners propose tax increases.

So why are charges of hypocrisy so popular? Mainly, I think, as a way to avoid tackling the substance of the policy at hand. Is Ms. Warren right or wrong about the T.P.P.? Never mind, let’s sneer at her for having been a prominent law professor.

The same motives drive the preoccupation with flip-flopping. “You once said that deficits were bad, now you say that they’re O.K. Hah!” Never mind whether deficits are, in fact, O.K. right now, or whether the situation has changed or something new has been learned. (As someone pointed out recently, both Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton have rejected policies that they used to support - but Mr. Romney has rejected policies that worked, while Mrs. Clinton has rejected policies that didn’t. A bit of a difference.)

So maybe this head-scratching hit on Ms. Warren will serve as a teachable moment, a reminder that journalism about policy should be, you know, journalism about policy.

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