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NAFTA flap comes at a bad time for Barack Obama

This is NOT the way Barack Obama's campaign wanted the final hours before Tuesday's big votes to play out, at least in Ohio.

A "he-said, he-said" dispute that had been somewhat under the radar became a dominant news story after the Associated Press obtained a memo in which an official at Canada's consulate in Chicago asserts that an Obama advisor, during a recent meeting, basically told the Canadians that the candidate has been blowing smoke in trashing NAFTA.

The Obama counselor, University of Chicago economics professor Austan Goolsbee, hotly denies the summary of his meeting that was penned by Joseph DeMora, saying of the memo's key passage: "That's this guy's language. He's not quoting me."

Regardless, it's hard to see how this flap gives Obama much chance to reverse what the most recent polling indicates is a discernible shift in Hillary Clinton's direction in Ohio (see here and here).

Here's what DeMora wrote that is causing the furor:

"Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."

Goolsbee insists DeMora put words in his mouth, telling the AP: "This thing about 'it's more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans,' I certainly did not use that phrase in any way."

Here's the entire AP story.

[UPDATE -- The Canadian Embassy in Washington just issued the following statement: "The Canadian Embassy and our Consulates General regularly contact those involved in all of the Presidential campaigns and, periodically, report on these contacts to interested officials. In the recent report produced by the Consulate General in Chicago, there was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA. We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect.]

The Clinton campaign, which had been trying to attract more attention ...

to Goolsbee's comments to the Canadians since the story began simmering last week, was quick to react today.

The Clinton press shop, with the aim of raising credibility questions about her rival, issued a release that provided (in excruciating detail) the various responses over the last few days from the Obama camp about the NAFTA matter.

Clinton herself was more concise in commenting on it this morning, saying, "I don’t think people should come to Ohio and tell the people of Ohio one thing and then have your campaign tell a foreign government something else behind closed doors. That’s the kind of difference between talk and action and that I’ve been pointing out in this campaign."

You can read more about her comments here.

Some of her chief aides, meanwhile, have taken to referring to the brouhaha as "NAFTA-gate."

Goolsbee, according to his resume, was a renowned member of debate teams as a student. He also has coached debate squads at M.I.T. and the University of Chicago. This was not, however, the type of rhetorical battle that either he or Obama would want at this point in the campaign.

-- Don Frederick

Comments () | Archives (45)

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Just goes to show you what a fake Obama really is. Where's the outrage about Rezko, why isn't the press nailing Obama on that, if it was Clinton it would be a front page headline. Oops, forget Obama is LA Times' baby.
Just like Oprah who backed that fraud who wrote the book, falling to pieces or whatever pieces and her school that hires child abusers.

Obamma and his associates seem to have finally had a call go against them. I am curious how he will handle this issue, and if he will respond to John McCain's query regarding campaign finance limtations. It is so easy to talk the talk, walking the walk can be decidedly unpleasant.

This is an important part of the testing of a candidate. Handling adversity is a large part of the job of President.


And as soon as some Canadian dimplomat releases some memo from their meeting with the Clinton camp - this will be ANOTHER non-issue.

OBAMA '08!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Calm down anee,
It will be all over after Tuesday, and Hillary can pack up and go HOME.

This is only one of the many stories that are being reported about Obama.

The fact is that Americans should have had access to a lot more than the media was willing to report about him. If it had been reported he would not be sitting in this position!

From his never attending one meeting on the Oversight commitee on Afghanistan, to his minister and "mentor's " words of hate and racism, his minister blaming 9/11 terroist attack on White America, to Farrakhan, to the sleaz characters from Rezko, to a bomber of the U S Pentagon, to an Iraq billonaire to..and these people/connections just keep coming out, then his misleading comments about his "judgement" on the Iraq war, and his wife that cetainly is questionable as far as Patriotism for her country, and the list goes on and on and on!

But he has found a vulnerable America. And Obama has used this vulnerability to sidestep issues and his lack of character and integrity.

This country needs a change all right, and it starts with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents seeing that this man is NOT a nominee for the U S presidency!


Obama is showing that he is all talk when it really counts. I don't see how he has managed to get away with it all this long. I hope people are finally seeing him for what he really is, a phony.

Did anyone actually believe that any NAFTA renegotiations about environmental protections and worker rights would affect Canada?!?!

Come on guys - get in touch with reality. Canada protects its environment. Canada protects its workers. What part of that don't you understand?

I can understand Canada would want this clarified just to be sure, and I can imagine what the campaign's reply would be. Can't you?

This is the best that people can say for a "gotcha" moment? A University professor talking to Canadian embassy visitors makes a personal statement and somehow this reflects that Obama (who was not there and did not make the statement) is deceptive and deceitful. America deserves everything it gets for its warped voting habits.

This is good reporting. I am glad this hit the news before the good people of Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont vote. Thank you. Another reason to vote for Hillary.

Senator Obama is a politician just like all the rest; this memo would be no surprise to many except for his posturing to be somehow better than, different from all the other politicians.

As the Obama video on youtube states...You have been "hoodwinked"......"bamboozled"

Words out of Barrack's own mouth....

Except it is his supporters who have been hoodwinked and bamboozled......

A major hit on Obama right before an important election. Fancy that.

The Canadian Embassy update dismisses this NAFTA confusion.

I question the headline of this post, "blaming" Obama when evidence of this situation was sketchy. Media is quick on the hit pieces! A memo has to be sourced as proof! AP was too quick!

Look at the "here" link, that's a HIT on Hillary showing her wrinkled profile close up! She takes a better picture than that!

The media hits are flying faster than candidates can slam each other!

This a good time for Obama, regardless! He's not sweating the Rezco trial either.

Some of this attack by Hillary, is also a preparation for Obama against Republican groups.

Isn't it irritating when "conservatives" who label themselves that way, attack liberals. Bush isn't a fiscal conservative. His spending and tax cuts are failures of economical judgement. He blathered in many speeches about a Marriage Amendment written to the Constitution. Bush is a panderer of the conservative movement, whatever that is.

Conservatives do liberal things all the time, but don't want to be caught doing them!

McCain isn't conservative, no matter what he hopes!

McCain's Pastor Hagee endorsement has to be a blog topic! C'mon with it!

McCain's Pastor Hagee is exactly how the blog topic should start. McCain flew to San Antonio to get his endorsement in person. Hagee has some bizarre anti-catholic and Jews murdered for the Rapture to happen beliefs!

Obama's Farrakhan post days ago, Obama has never had a stage event with Farrakhan. Never has accepted that endorsement but was criticized and challenged.

I think I'll put more creedence in the statement released by the Canadien Embassy in Washington.

This attack by the Clinton campaign is a non-starter. Hill and her back room bunch, who by the way have been either wrong or lazy or stupid up until now, have presently instituted their scortched earth policy for a candidate most people JUST DON'T WANT.

What, 11 straight primary or caucus wins? If Hill had won them, would they be demanding Barack leave the race if the delegate count of today was reversed?

No more political dynasties. Bill, who I believe was one of the very greatest American presidents, unfortunately let the little head do the thinking for the big head, and allowed the GangOfPerverts to demonize him, along with the Democratic Party and progressives & liberals everywhere. Al Gore should have waltzed into the West Wing on their 8 year record, instead we've gotten 7 + years of war criminals, traitors, incompetents, & shredders of our Constitution & Bill of Rights. Thanks, Bill.

No more bushies, EVER, & no more Clintons.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for Hillary Clinton. She assumed she would waltz into the nomination and probably on into the White House. Instead, her campaign is grasping desperately for anything to slow Obama's momentum so it can have a rationale to continue. By exploiting this NAFTA memo, which both the Canadians and the Obama advisor say is distorted and taken out of context, she may finally have found a dirty enough trick to do the job.

I'm dismayed, but not surprised. She never claimed to believe in a place called Hope.

Reality check.

This was not merely a "personal statement by a university professor." Goolsbee is senior economic advisor to Obama.

The Canadian Embassy carefully avoids any denial that Goolsbee said exactly what the embassy notetaker reported. It says it "did not mean to convey" that message. Of course, it did not mean to convey it.

Most interesting of all is that Goolsbee is an Obama advisor. Goolsbee is a University of Chicago free marketeer fo the Friedman variety. About this time last year, he wrote an op ed in the NY Times touting the virtues of the subprime mortgage market, advising the government to keep it unregulated.

Like anyone is going to 'renegotiate or walk' from NAFTA. I agree with another poster above, there's probably a Clinton Memo/Phone call as well. McCain hasn't said anything requiring a memo.

I coulda sworn we, the US, were the ones behind NAFTA to begin with, so why are we blaming Canada for everything is beyond me. It's not like they are standing there at the 49th parallel and chanting


I can't wait till this election is all over - I had such hope that we'd turn this battleship of a country around with this election, but Clinton is managing to crush any enthusiasm I had about things getting better. We're going to have to pry her fingers from the convention doorjab if she *doesn't* win...but if she does win...

I can't imagine 4 years of a Clinton II administration. Sure, it won't be as horrific as Bush II, but man we'll be looking at four years of partisan screaming and a do-nothing Congress. It will be like watching our parents every night at dinner before they finally, mercifully, get that divorce.

I voted for McCain before, with no qualms. I can do so again. He would be a far better candidate than Clinton could ever dream of being. If experience is what counts, he's got it in spades.

Uncleike you were faster than me. I wanted to state the same thing:Goolspee is Obama's economic adviser, if I am not wrong evan the principal one, so the canadian consulate listened to him very carefully.
Obama was caught in a double talk situation. Bad for him good for the country and for the election process.

If Obama's Team had a cordial meeting with the Canadian gov't, why would the Canadian release a memo to make Obama look bad?

Sounds like a set up to help Mccain or Clinton

The Obama cult members aren't going to care what he says or does...they're like members of the OJ Jury or the people who voted for Bush and still think he's great! I just hope the people in Ohio and Texas catch on that Obama is nothing but talk. His so-called charmisma is for 14 year old groupies, not adults who know what life is really about. Grow up Obama cultists!

As a Canadian, I wouldn't put anything past our sleazy snake of a prime minister to try to make the Democrats look bad. He adores Bush: need I say more.

Hillary will win tomorrow, but not by margins substantial to justify continuing her candidacy. Instead, voters will "react" to this NAFTAgate half-issue and assume Obama is just another Democrat cut from the same cloth that Hillary and her husband are cut from. That irony of that will be lost on most voters. Unfortunately, the campaign will trudge along and she will continue to get ugly and resort to the politics-as-usual most Obama supporters disdain. In truth, Hillary accepts more in contributions from the defense industries of all the major candidates still seeking the presidency. Iraq is never going to be resolved under a Clinton presidency. The military bases we've built there and our enormous embassy will remain. She voted for WAR, and she is being funded by the industries that make billions when we wage war. NAFTA does need to be renegotiated. But let's not forget that she claims to be against the very same trade policy she and her husband originally championed. This Obama memo is really a nonissue. The real issue is Hillary's and Bill's policy records regarding the American working classes, Those same Americans they supposedly feel for but send to fight illegal wars. Those same Americans who lost their good job and now work three lousy jobs to make ends meet. Those same Americans who are now stagnating as the corporations the Clinton family has built it's personal fortune with--the fortune that enabled her to lend 5 million dollars to her own campaign--prosper in a new gilded-age.

How provincial some of you Americans are!...forget about trying to rule the world...time of ignorance is over. Whose baby was Nafta?.......for those who have a short memory: Clinton. This latest crap is just a excuse for those who dont have a brain.....and probably even dont know where Canada is!!

The Canadians have come out and refuted this report! Those of you who wish to continue politics as usual and are voting for the nasty Hillary who is resorting to all of Karl Roves tricks, you just may get exactly what you deserve-4 more years of what we've had for the last 8 years! Read the whole truth, don't blindly believe Hillary, she lied when she said she didn't support NAFTA. She does anything to get herself elected, after all she's entitled, it's all about her, she needs to continue the Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton legacy. Damn the country, it's about her!

(Actually, there's a later report with the Canadians confirming a meeting, but the Obama campaign says it was an independent one by its economic advisor and they were unaware.)

Why does the LA Times run an unsubstantiated story, on page one, the day before a crucial set of primaries, with the sub-headline "Canadians were apparently assured that Obama's tough stance on trade was "political posturing"? I remember a time when there was an independent press corps - who reported with a modicum of facts, decency and independence. Now we get front-page articles, without even the pretense of unbiased journalism.

Why doesn't the front page of the LAT reflect this update?

"[UPDATE -- The Canadian Embassy in Washington just issued the following statement: "The Canadian Embassy and our Consulates General regularly contact those involved in all of the Presidential campaigns and, periodically, report on these contacts to interested officials. In the recent report produced by the Consulate General in Chicago, there was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA. We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect.]"

The Canadian government through it's embassy officially supports Obama's version of events and NOT Hillary's. Yet, the LA Times still runs the initial version of the story on the front page of its website. So sad. Now Hillary is looking worse speaking more lies. She is looking so foolish and desparate now. Her compaign is in absolute shambles. Do we want 4 more years of the Clintons back in the White House with Bill's cheating and more White Water scandals?

when, oh when, will the media do a serious and in-depth story about the very disturbing inaccessibility of obama to the press? his refusal to speak with reporters, and/or his campaign's refusal to make him accessible, smacks of just the kind of cloaking and manipulation we have been subjected to in the current administration, with catastrophic results. are we going to have the american media "on bended knee" to yet another inaccessible, imperial president?

if hillary clinton, who has never been known for openness with the press, were even half as aloof and closed off as obama has been throughout this primary, my, wouldn't they all just be shrieking???

when will this story be covered?

Up here in Canada, NAFTA was and still is a highly controversial trade agreement. It's been blamed for everything for manufacturing job losses in Ontario, to excessive American control of the Canadian economy, to the inability of the government to enforce environmental standards against foreign-owned companies. I think most Canadians are amazed that Clinton and Obama would even suggest renegotiating NAFTA, considering the number of issues Canadians have with the agreement, and considering that most of Ohio's problems are due to cheap Chinese manufactured goods rather than NAFTA.

If a Clinton or Obama administration insists on reopening NAFTA, and then plays hardball with Mexico and Canada, I think the whole deal will collapse, with unpredictable economic and political consequences. Considering Canada is a major energy supplier to the U.S., and Canadian soldiers are fighting with NATO in Afghanistan, I can't see how NAFTA's collapse would be in the interests of the U.S. Besides the economic and political damage, it would reinforce the view in the world that Americans can't be trusted to honour the agreements and treaties they sign.

Mr. Obama promises to give more help to poor countries in Africa. But in reality, ending protectionist policies in the US and other rich nations would do more for poor countries in Africa than any amount of aide ever could. Mr. Obama contradicts himself constantly. It is about time that Americans wake up to this fraud.

Until Billary denounces the racist remarks of their supporters (most recently the Latino leader who said "Obama's problem is that he's black") and releases her tax forms, she has no right to question anyone's integrity. Oh, and answering exactly what foreign crisis she's resolved, would be nice. I mean, other than handing Dubya another bullet to shoot the Iraqis with.

He claims he is a different politician, yet he does the wink-wink. At least with Hillary, we know when she is fighting dirt with dirt, we know the girl, we've seen her operate. This guy sure is a phony. Claims he can bring change. CHANGE IS A sure thing whether you claim if for yourself or not. HE DIDNT GO TO WAR NOT BECAUSE HE WANTS TO PROTECT AMERICANS. I wonder who he was he protecting when he didnt want to bomb Iraq? I wonder where his money comes from outside sources?

Elizabeth: John McCain makes himself endlessly available to the press. They ride his bus, share his jokes, and chow down ribs. Does this make him a superior Presidential candidate?

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, distanced himself from the press, unlike, say, President Reagan, who got along famously with them. Does this make Reagan a superior President?

In the Clinton's defense, they had reason for their reserve. They were harassed and slandered, over a story that turned out to be a sham. So why is the Clinton campaign already trying to label the newest sham "NAFTA-gate?" Another option would be to rise above that level of political game. John McCain was slandered too - by the Bush campaign in SC. When they tried to attack Kerry with the same tactics, McCain crossed party lines, reviled the Swift-Boaters, and stood by Kerry. That's honor. And it's not about words. It's about character.

This is destiny. We could scrutinize, analyze, patronize, apologize, and eulogize all the hell we want...America WILL HAVE a BLACK PRESIDENT. Hillary is a white male candidate with breasts and a vagina... or a Bill Clinton in drag.

It's always awkward when the talking points change, and a prominent surrogate is still working off the old ones -- as this afternoon, where Dick Durbin denies that there was any meeting with the Canadians, which has been conceded by both sides.

Obama caught with his pants down; good for him. This shows him that he is no where ready for the big leagues if he can't even control what he says to foreign governments.

In politics, nothing is off-record, nothing is informal. Nothing that comes out of his office is not sanctioned by Obama himself. If you believe the Obama spin then I got a million bucks to give you.

It's about time we see a politician for what he's really worth: a sorry sack of lies covered in brown flesh.


The most shrill anti-Obama statements on this baorad are from women.

Repeal the 19th amendment.

How come the press is not spotlighting Goolsbee's non-denial? Golsbee's only denying that the exact language as quoted is incorrect, he's not denying the substance of the accusation - that he delivered the message that Obama's posturing on NAFTA was mere electioneering. His denial is that :"That's this guy's language. He's not quoting me, " and ' I certainly did not use that phrase in any way." Ok, he didn't use "that phrase" . But where's the denial that he didn't deliver the message of Obama's duplicity? His denial splits semantic hairs but never contradicts the actual accusation.


I believe that this is another attempt to scare up votes before a crucial primary. The fact of the matter is that Obama has criticized NAFTA--he laid out those criticisms even in his book. This is merely her attempt to throw whatever she can at Obama; he is simply more charasmatic than she has been--bottom line, his words and solutions are simply more inspiriing that she is--he is actually inspiring ordinary people to do ordinary things--have a stake in their government, hold their leaders accountable, and not to fear one another or their brothers and sisters abroad. Shame on Hillary for distorting his record so mercilessly just to scare up votes...GO OBAMA

hillary is a women, she is not selfish like men are ,she like mothers do ,want what is best for this country and its children and its sons and daugters, she as a women was given this(need to take care of people) by god himself,

I was enjoying the comments on this blog until I read the one from lina. Was it really necessary to sink to the level of descrbing the biological differences between male and female in order to make a point?

Sorry but mr BO is not fake, he said yes we can, what about that? yes we can cheat on people....

In response to Lynn,

Thank you for making my point...Obama has always been opposed to NAFTA, he slams Hillary for it yet he turns around to the Canadian Gov't and tells Canada not to worry about what he chooses to express during the primaries? As a Canadian we take NAFTA very seriously...his advisor is on record with the Canadian Gov't, using words such as, "political rhetoric" and "It's just political positioning"...why did Sen. Obama deny the meeting ever took place??? Then, once it was found that there was proof of the meeting, he finally fessed up to it..."just words"...I guess your right..."just words"...your comment just proved that he is saying one thing and meaning another...think about it?

Wow. You guys are idiots!
If Obama doesn't scare the crap out of you, you are blind to the world.



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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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