Up New Hampshire way, four weeks before the nation's first presidential primary, two U.S. senators (Tom Harkin and Bob Kerrey) are beating the drums for protectionism and one governor (Bill Clinton) is trying to make the case for a liberal world trading system. Political posturing aside, we think the difference lies in the nature of their jobs -- a difference Democratic voters ought to keep in mind when they cast their ballots.
Governors, after all, are held responsible for economic performance. They know what works. In good times and bad, they promote foreign trade and lure foreign investors because they are judged by their records on job creation and economic growth. Legislators, in contrast, need be concerned only with trade policy and overseeing the executive.
As a governor, Mr. Clinton has sought to open up market opportunities for Arkansas. Instead of bashing Japan, he prefers to talk about the need to upgrade U.S. education and technology so that the United States can be more competitive.
Senators Kerrey and Harkin, in contrast, go with the flow toward protectionism in the Democratic Party, historically until the Vietnam era the bastion of free trade sentiment in America. This, despite the fact that they come from grain-exporting states that have a compelling interest in free trade in agriculture. Mr. Kerrey, relying on the same political attack-ad gurus who gave us Dick Gephardt's $40,000 Hyundai in 1988, now portrays himself as a hockey goalie whose main task is to deflect foreign pucks. Mr. Harkin, while pretending to be a New Deal Democrat, proudly defines himself as a "protectionist."
What is fascinating is that the senatorial-gubernatorial divergence emerging in the New Hampshire debate is repeated in many states throughout the country -- not least in Maryland. Here we have two Democratic senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, who consistently vote against free trade initiatives, and a governor, William Donald Schaefer, who has assiduously promoted exports and wooed foreign investors since his days as mayor of Baltimore.
Though Governor Schaefer has been needled for globe-trotting in search of connections overseas, he believes a great port state like Maryland cannot afford to be isolated. The opposite stance is taken by Senators Sarbanes and Mikulski, who most recently voted against "fast-track" trade negotiating authority for the president and against a North America Free Trade Association that would include Mexico. Only a week ago, in a meeting with Sun editors, Ms. Mikulski echoed Senator Harkin in describing herself as a "protectionist."
Presidential elections must and should turn on more than one issue. But if Governor Clinton prevails in New Hampshire and does not succumb later to pressures within his party, that would help keep the United States in the forefront of the crusade for a more liberal world trading system -- no matter who wins the November election.