Congress is flirting with “Buy America” again, “complaining that money is going to projects that are creating jobs in foreign countries.” They’re pointing to the “Buy America” provisions in the 2009 stimulus package, which call for American firms to be favored over foreign firms when making government purchases.
Back in ’09, President Obama correctly observed that favoring US companies over foreign ones could “trigger a trade war” and send a message to the world that “we’re just looking after ourselves.” Indeed, the Buy America provisions have provoked outrage from important trading partners across the globe.
Yet, President Obama’s gentle leadership on this issue is not enough. We need his bold and courageous style to explain in no uncertain terms why protectionism is wrong for the United States.
On March 18, 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama gave the most important speech on race in the United States since Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in the 1960s. He addressed fears that people have of others who are different from them. He explained that he was running for president because “we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together.” The speech showed courage of leadership on a divisive issue, and it inspired many to vote for him.
These days, people are worried about the economy, and it is easy to let fears about people who are different – people of foreign countries – be our scapegoat.
Yet, let’s look back at other periods of stormy economy history. It is widely agreed that the world plunged deeper into the Great Depression of the 1930s because of insular “beggar-thy-neighbor” policies. Governments sought to bail out their own countries at the expense of their neighbors.
Now, as we live through times of economic woe, with crisis in country after country, isolationism is certainly tempting. We are seduced by ugly nationalism to deal with international problems, just as we have so many times faltered and turned to racism domestically. These poisonous fruits, however, can only spell further disaster.
So, while President Obama sometimes nudges in the right direction on this issue, his gentle prodding to tone down nationalist demands are simply insufficient.
We need bold global leadership from someone who understands the ways in which all people – from Kansas to Kenya, from Illinois to Indonesia, from Pennsylvania Avenue to Pakistan – are intimately connected. This is why we elected President Obama.
We need our President to forthrightly explain to the American people exactly why a Buy America approach is wrong:
We live in a globalized, multi-polar world. Simply put, we cannot solve the financial challenges of our time unless we solve them together.