Many liberals who are smart enough to support free trade are slowly beginning to realize just how protectionist the Democratic Party has become. Fareed Zakaria reports that one argument he often hears from supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, is “that they don’t really mean what they say, that their actual proposals on trade agreements involve only minor tinkering.” Similarly the Washington Post editorializes: “In other words, we have to hope that they were only pandering.”

The problem is that the Democrats already have control of Congress and, despite liberal free trader hopes to the contrary, they have already irreparably harmed American leadership on free trade. On April 10, 2008 Speaker Nancy Pelosi changed a key House rule that effectively gutted over thirty years of established U.S. trade policy. Heritage scholars Ambassador Terry Miller and Daniella Markheim explain:

President Bush, concerned that Congress would adjourn this year without acting on the [Colombia Free Trade] agreement, formally sent the pact to the lawmakers April 8. This, in turn, started a 90-day clock for an up-or-down vote. The next day, Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would void that timetable, likely delaying a vote on the Colombia deal until after the presidential election in November. The California Democrat vowed to set aside the “fast track” guarantee of the Trade Promotion Authority, under which the U.S.-Colombia agreement was concluded. Regrettably, the House on April 10 agreed 224-195, mostly along party lines.

Miller and Markheim also assess the fall out from the unprecedented and shortsighted political tactic:

[C]hanging the rules in the middle of the game strikes at the integrity of the process, which includes elaborate international negotiations and much hard bargaining with foreign governments. If this maneuver stands, U.S. trade negotiators will have a far harder time persuading counterparts in other nations that they can deliver congressional approval of negotiated terms — even if Congress awards a future president renewed fast-track authority. Americans should expect far less favorable trade deals, as foreign negotiators lose faith that the United States will uphold our end and thus make fewer concessions of their own.

Heritage scholar Anthony Kim explains why Pelosi’s move is such a huge victory for China at the expense of U.S. soft power through out the world:

More important, the world has been carefully watching developments surrounding the Colombia FTA and House Speaker Pelosi’s shortsighted actions. Given that the current World Trade Organization negotiations have stalled, European trading partners and developing nations are vigilantly monitoring our trade policy to gauge America’s true commitment to free trade. Particularly in Asia, South Korea has been anxiously watching the progress of the Colombia deal as a reliable indication of the probable fate of the U.S.–Korea free trade agreement. China, which just signed a free trade pact with New Zealand and looks for more trade deals, is surely monitoring current developments with amusement.