The New York Times editorial board has become worried that recent protectionist promises coming from the two leading liberal presidential candidates will hurt their movement’s image among the new more upscale pro-free trade members of their coalition. To counteract the perception that liberals are protectionist and conservatives are free traders, the Times afforded one-time Bob Dole adviser Robert Lighthizer the op-ed space to slander the conservative movement as “Grand Old Protectionists.” Lighthizer writes:

Free trade has long been popular with liberals, and it remains so with liberal elites today. The editorial pages of major newspapers consistently support free trade. … Moreover, many American conservatives have opposed free trade. … President Reagan often broke with free-trade dogma. … President Reagan’s pragmatism contrasted strongly with the utopian dreams of free traders.

Lightizer also points out that “President Bill Clinton fought hard to win approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement.” Lightizer fails to mention that the agreement only passed Congress thanks to large majorities of conservative votes. Union-owned liberals largely voted against the measure. No politician is perfect on any issue, but to paraphrase Deval Patrick, “words matter.” On trade, Ronald Reagan said in 1985: “And let me say at the outset that our trade policy rests firmly on the foundation of free and open markets — free trade. I, like you, recognize the inescapable conclusion that all of history has taught: The freer the flow of world trade, the stronger the tides for human progress and peace among nations.”

CATO’s Dan Griswold amply defends Reagan’s acts on the issue as well: “It was the Reagan administration that launched the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations in 1986 that lowered global tariffs and created the World Trade Organization. It was his administration that won approval of the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement in 1988. That agreement soon expanded to include Mexico in what became the North American Free Trade Agreement, realizing a vision that Reagan first articulated in the 1980 campaign. It was Reagan who vetoed protectionist textile quota bills in 1985 and 1988.”

Lighthizer’s op-ed identifies him as a trade lawyer. We are certain he arrived at his protectionist impulses honestly, but everyone should realize that the only reason the New York Times printed his op-ed was because Lighthizer’s clients interests in promoting protectionism aligned with the NYT’s interest in slandering the conservative movement on free trade. As National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru points out, Lightizer helped convince Bob Dole to take a protectionist positions in 1996 to help him in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Dole lost all three states.

Quick Hits:

  • If authentic, the trove of documents found by Colombian forces in Ecuador show that Venezuelan officials are eager to work with the leftist terrorist FARC organization to destabilize Colombia’s democratic government.
  • George McGovern (yes, that George McGovern) writes in the Wall Street Journal today: “Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.”
  • California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is taking heat from his new found environmentalist friends for his carbon-heavy commute from his Brentwood mansion to the capitol in Sacramento.
  • A lawsuit filed Thursday in a federal court in New York by Latino immigrants seeks to force immigration authorities to complete hundreds of thousands of stalled naturalization petitions in time for the new citizens to vote in November.
  • U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey suggested Thursday that California and other states that want to ban road-building in large swaths of national forests should have to pay for the resulting increased costs of fighting wildfires on those federal lands