President Obama and Mitt Romney are both pretending to oppose offshoring of jobs by U.S. companies, Matt Yglesias points out at Slate. Dan Drezner, a dedicated free-trader winces at the mercantalist, anti-free-trade rhetoric, but takes comfort in the confidence that neither guy really believes in protectionism, and it’s all a bunch of political posturing.
Yglesias and Drezner are correct, but I want to expand on what Drezner says. It’s not just about free-trade-vs-protectionism — it’s about internationalism-vs-nationalism. Think of immigration, trade, and war.
Politicians rarely campaign on open-borders, but they always govern generally in that direction. Presidential candidates typically campaign as protectionists, but they govern as pro-international-traders. Even George W. Bush campaigns on humble foreign policy, and then launches us into war; Obama, similarly, was hardly the dove he campaigned as.
The sands shift, and there are exceptions, but I think the general rule stands: Grassroots of both parties tend to be more nationalist, while the elites of both parties are far more internationalist. In fact, I think there are few lines that intersect more perpendicularly to the LEFT/RIGHT axis and fall more cleanly along the ELITE/GRASSROOTS line than internationalism vs nationalism.
To drive this point home, let’s look closer at trade. Neither side’s elites are really for free-trade. They are more pro-trade. In other words, both party’s leadership support export subsidies like the Export-Import Bank, and shipping subsidies. Both parties deploy the Commerce Department and USTR to grease the wheels, not only removing government barriers to trade, but trying to lessen market barriers, too. Again, the dividing line isn’t free-markets-vs-government-intervention; it’s more-international-trade-vs-less. (I’m not talking about policy experts and journalists here as much as politicians.)
This is natural, and probably the case in most countries: the wealthy and well-connected are more cosmopolitan than the folks they are governing.