One of the most common themes brought up by Tea Party personalities such as Glenn Beck is the menace of globalism and the supposed threat it poses to American sovereignty. The rhetoric brings back memories of the 1990s militia movement and its frequent invocations of the “global government” bogeyman and the shadowy “New World Order” conspiracy. Often times President Obama is criticized as a “post-American” president for his purported concern for the world opinion and ambivalence towards American exceptionalism. The liberal philanthropist George Soros is also vilified as a shady “puppet-master” pulling Obama’s strings in an effort to make the US subservient to the international community.
Some of this was seen in full swing during the manufactured controversy over President Obama’s Executive Order granting certain privileges to the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). It was alleged that Obama was giving the international agency unprecedented legal authorities and would even allow for investigations of US officials by the International Criminal Court. While it was eventually pointed out by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer that the order was a legitimate assertion of executive authority under Reagan-era legislation, the damage by then had already been done.
It is notable that the proponents of this anti-globalist sentiment rarely address the type of treaty that the US largely accepts and gives the most weight to: the free trade agreement. As has been pointed out by left-wing commentators for decades now, the numerous trade treaties signed by the US are almost always written in a manner that benefits the economic elites in the US and abroad and that the terms infringe on the sovereignty of all signatory governments. By enshrining trade policy in treaty form, the ability of national governments to control their own economies based on democratic political changes and unforeseen circumstances is severely restricted. In fact, the treaties often go beyond the issue of trade barriers and dictate that countries must pay for economic policies that are perceived as infringing on the rights of foreign investors.
One cannot help but wonder how many of the self-proclaimed defenders of US sovereignty in the Tea Party movement would respond to a question about Chapter 11 in the North American Free Trade Agreement. As Public Citizen explains:
NAFTA’s investment chapter (Chapter 11) contains a variety of new rights and protections for investors and investments in NAFTA countries. If a company believes that a NAFTA government has violated these new investor rights and protections, it can initiate a binding dispute resolution process for monetary damages before a trade tribunal, offering none of the basic due process or openness guarantees afforded in national courts. These so-called “investor-to-state” cases are litigated in the special international arbitration bodies of the World Bank and the United Nations, which are closed to public participation, observation and input. A three-person panel composed of professional arbitrators listens to arguments in the case, with powers to award an unlimited amount of taxpayer dollars to corporations whose NAFTA investor privileges and rights they judge to have been impacted.
An illustrative case is that of Methanex v. United States, concerning a California state ban on a methanol-based gasoline additive (MTBE) that was getting into water supplies. The Nation noted that “even small amounts of MTBE leaking from storage tanks, pipeline breaks or car accidents made water unfit to drink–and extremely difficult to clean up.” In 1999, the Canadian company Methanex filed a lawsuit demanding that California pay $970 million in compensation for the damage California may inflict on its profits. Instead of being heard before a US federal court, the case was heard before a private three-judge panel. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that the proceedings were secret and closed to the public. Arbitration records under NAFTA can only be disclosed upon the consent of both parties.
The lead US negotiator on NAFTA’s chapter 11 was a Washington lawyer named Daniel Price. At a scholarly forum in Cleveland he claimed that the free trade agreement “checks the excesses of unilateral sovereignty” and advised those disturbed by violations of US sovereignty to “get over it.” Just think about that for a second. Imagine George Soros ranting about “excesses of unilateral sovereignty” in supporting a human rights treaty that the Obama administration is considering signing. It would be a scandal. Glenn Beck would devote an entire show to such a cavalier attitude in dismissing US sovereignty and his “do-gooder” human rights ideology. Yet because the efforts of Price and other conservative legal minds succeeded in putting the protection of capital over the interests of national sovereignty, Beck would probably sing his praises. After all, what harm is there in a New World Order if it defends the “right” of foreign investors to make profit at the expense of public health and the environment?
To be fair, there are many paleo-conservatives and even some libertarians who oppose treaties such NAFTA and CAFTA and US involvement in groups such as the WTO. The isolationist Pat Buchanan, while holding many unsavory views, engages in a consistent effort to make known his outright protectionist viewpoint. Others, such as Rep. Ron Paul, claim to support the concept of free trade but oppose the “bureacracies” the treaties tend to create. But most often, their opposition to these international treaties and mechanisms can be put along side their steadfast opposition to almost every other treaty the US is signed on to or is currently considering in addition to their hostility to the United Nations.
I believe that the Tea Party should be seen as an effort on the part of cosmopolitan business interests to impose neo-liberal adjustment on the American economy while wrapping themselves in the cloak of old-fashioned American nationalism and appealing to paleo-conservative paranoia about global government. In order for this to succeed, the inconsistency over the Tea Party’s neglect of globalization and the violations of sovereignty by international capital must remain hidden from view. The wealthy individuals who fund the movement seem to be willing to accept the anti-immigration hysteria of the Tea Party despite the fact that having more low-wage workers in the country can mean higher profit margins.* It can be assumed that with globalization and reduced barriers to the movement of goods and capital, they already have access to all the cheap, flexible labor they desire. As ThinkProgress notes, major Tea Party political figures such as Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Jim DeMint are avid free traders despite the fact that the majority of rank-and-file Tea Partiers say free trade has “hurt the US.” Such a trade-off (no pun intended) can only mean good things for the obscenely wealthy oligarchs who reside not only in America but around the world as well.
*It may also be added that the business community may perceive a perverse upside to the rampant xenophobia found in today’s political arena. Undocumented immigrants are easier to exploit and abuse since they themselves would be viewed as criminals if they went to the authorities for help. If they were given legal residency, they could increase their bargaining power and get better treatment and wages. The xenophobes play an unwitting role in keeping many migrant populations in virtual slavery on behalf of big business.