U.S. elections exacerbate tough China relations
The most popular villain in U.S. midterm campaign ads might not be banks, bailouts or Bush, but rather Beijing. Both Republicans and Democrats are working hard to exploit voter economic angst by tying opponents to China. The smear effort bodes poorly for reducing trade tensions in 2011.
It’s old hat for candidates to accuse faraway nations, and political rivals for enabling them, for domestic economic woes. But the latest version of the blame game is notable for two reasons. First, it’s bipartisan. Democrats, backed by labor unions, typically attack Republicans over trade and jobs. This time is no different. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Representative Joe Sestak is running an ad claiming Republican Pat Toomey wants to “bring jobs to China” and knocks him for praising China’s economic modernization.
Republicans, however, tend to be trade proponents. Yet in an important West Virginia House race, GOP challenger Spike Maynard is charging Democrat Representative Nick Rahall for voting to outsource green jobs to China. A similar cry from Republicans can be heard around the country.
The ads also break new ground in xenophobia. The red-hued Sestak ad employs a gong and a fortune cookie to make its point. The Maynard ad is just about as subtle, using stereotypical music and directly blaming China for high U.S. unemployment.
Then there’s the ugly “Chinese Professor” web ad from a conservative lobbying group. The YouTube sensation portrays Chinese college students in 2030 being lectured on America’s economic collapse. The gut punch line: “Of course, we owned most of their debt — so now they work for us.”
This is all apt to pile pressure on President Barack Obama to cut some sort of currency deal with China at the G20 meeting in South Korea next month. Hopes are running high China will agree to let the yuan steadily appreciate over the next three to five years. Failure could spur the Senate to pass the currency bill already approved by the House.
It would also embolden the next Congress to be more adversarial. It’s a telling sign that runaway favorite Ohio Senate candidate Rob Portman, America’s trade representative under President George W. Bush, already has slammed the Treasury Department for failing to tag China a currency manipulator. His future colleagues surely will take notice.