In the realm of democratic government, coercion and compromise are the meat-and-potatoes of daily life. So it was for the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement – NAFTA – during the autumn months of 1993. NAFTA addressed an economic issue in which the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch of the federal government found themselves lined up on opposite sides. Classic “politics,” in the public forum and in traditional backroom maneuvering, was the key tool that allowed President Bill Clinton his NAFTA victory in the House of Representatives.
NAFTA, in simplistic terms, encouraged the evolution of tariff-free trade among those North American nations sharing common borders with the United States: Mexico and Canada. As each of the countries involved has its own traditions, culture and form of government, so, too, do the barriers to foreign imports and protectionism of domestic industry reflect those factors. Enforcement of law, protection of the business community and environmental concerns vary as well (Elliott 29-30).
NAFTA was negotiated over a period of years beginning in the mid-1980s, when Republican Party administrations dominated U.S. foreign policy decision-making. Ostensibly pro-business, it was George Bush’s presidency that concluded the tri-country NAFTA negotiations. As its guiding principle, Bush’s negotiating team maintained the classic conservative stance that any lessening of government involvement in commerce – particularly the reduction of trade barriers – is to the ultimate good of the business community and, by extension, the economy of the U.S. as a whole. Based on this foundation of belief, Bush’s team was able to bypass a traditional isolationist tendency inherent in the American political psyche.
The NAFTA battle lines would appear to have been clearly drawn in the presidential elections of 1992 – a Republican president obsessed with foreign affairs to the detriment of the h…