Longworth unearths an inconvenient truth

by Jim Longworth

This year former Vice President Al Gore won an Oscar for his documentary film An Inconvenient Truth. It was a well-deserved honor for a well-crafted presentation which raised the public consciousness, and even forced George Bush out of six years of denial to admit that global warming does exist. This is not the first issue for which Gore has been out in front. He led a commission to develop non-invasive technology for searching airline travelers. And it was Gore who took the high road by not continuing his legal challenge of the Florida vote count in 2000 (he should have).

But Gore was dead wrong on one issue that has had a devastating affect on millions of Americans. In 1993 he was Bill Clinton’s attack dog for NAFTA and was, on one occasion, sent to do battle with Ross Perot for a special edition of “Larry King Live”.

I recently reviewed excerpts of that debate. Gore was cool, calm and collected, even smug. He spouted out all kinds of statistics about how NAFTA was going to benefit America, and he had poor Perot (if you can call a billionaire poor) on the ropes.

At one point King asked Perot, “How does it feel to know that every living president supports this agreement?”

Perot gave a world-class answer that was largely lost on the audience. He said, “None of them are businessmen, Larry.”  Perot also warned viewers that passage of NAFTA would result in a “giant sucking sound,” the sound of American jobs being sucked out of this country and into Mexico.

The majority of viewers and nearly every Washington insider believed Gore won the debate, and rejected Perot as a crazy alarmist. Of the media darlings, only Jesse Jackson, Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader sided with Perot’s view on NAFTA. And so eight days later, Congress voted on and passed the so-called North American Free Trade Agreement. It was the beginning of the end for American textiles and apparel.

According to the NC Institute on Global Economy, the Tarheel state had over 252,000 people employed in textile and apparel plants in 1995. But by 2005 that number had dwindled to 97,525 – a 61 percent decrease in employment due directly to NAFTA, including a net loss of 84,000 jobs between 2002 and 2005 alone.

In fact, NC has been the hardest hit textile state overall, but everyone has suffered, like Ohioans who lost $9.3 Billion in wages as 195,000 people have been displaced since 2001. And in 2003, just ten years after passage of NAFTA, the Economic Policy Institute reported what Perot had predicted: that the trade agreement had displaced production which supported nearly 900,000 US jobs. EPI also confirmed that NAFTA had contributed to rising income inequality in our nation, had suppressed real wages for remaining production workers and had reduced fringe benefits.

Somehow Gore, Clinton, Reagan, Carter and Bush Sr. forgot to tell us that NAFTA contained no real provisions to maintain labor standards or protect the environment, both which would suffer at the hands of greedy US companies who shut down their plants here in order to hire cheap labor in Mexico.

Back in 2002 our current President claimed that NAFTA had actually created 2 million jobs, but the Great Decider did not factor in the import quotient. Had he done so, he would have seen that the number of Mexican plants making products for duty-free entry to the United States had grown from 2,114 in 1993 to over 3,200 in 2002. Put another way, while our exports to Mexico have grown by 95 percent, our imports from Mexico have grown by nearly 200 percent, thus creating a huge deficit and the loss of millions of American jobs.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the passage of NAFTA, but for my money, Al Gore must shoulder the lion’s share. Just as he influenced us to believe in global warming, he also influenced us to believe in the benefits of free trade. Gore is good at influencing people. The problem is that on that night in 1993, before the largest audience ever to watch a cable broadcast, Al Gore did more damage to our country than pollution ever will. I can probably live with some dirty particulates in the air, but I can’t live without a job.

If we’re going to lambast Bush for misleading us on WMDs, we should also take Gore to task for misleading us about NAFTA. Gore should make a public apology to Ross Perot, and especially to the millions of Americans who lost their jobs thanks to NAFTA. Then, he should lead a campaign to repeal NAFTA and penalize US companies who shut down plants at home.

Say you’re sorry, Al. Own up to this Inconvenient Truth.

Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen Friday mornings at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7), and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on MY48 (cable channel 15).