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October 14th, 2011
05:04 PM ET

Letters to the President: #998 'Free trade? Let's see'

Reporter's Note: I write to the president every day. It’s kind of like a sickness. Really.

Dear Mr. President,

First: Friends don’t let friend wear baseball caps when they don’t look good. When you allowed the South Korean president to don that hat during the Detroit visit…well, I know it played well with the hometown crowd, but for the rest of the nation it made him look like a tourist. Seriously, you have a great sense of style; you should have tipped him off.

Second: All of that aside, it is interesting to consider your play on these new free trade agreements. On one hand, you make a compelling argument that healthy, cooperative deals between friendly nations (in this case, South Korea, Panama, and Columbia) might mean more work for everyone. On the other, I understand the concerns among some of your trade union folks who suspect this will become just another convenient way for American jobs to drive off into the sunset.

As best I can sort it out, the reality will be that some people in some trades will benefit, and others may suffer. The test will be whether there are more good or bad results. Or, to put it even more simply, will more Americans get jobs out of these deals or lose them?

In a general sense, that really is all that anyone cares about these days.

You may look at the Korean president walking around in a silly hat and see the promise of a grand future…a legacy of trade that will produce good things for America long after your presidency is over. But others are much, much more concerned about the here and now. They have mortgages to cover, bills to pay, and kids to send to college. They are terrified of seeing their jobs disappear, and frankly it won’t do them much good if more jobs are created somewhere down the line that involve skills they don’t possess.

I’m not saying that your policies must be written to address such concerns, but rather that if you want credit for what you’ve done here, you’re going to have to do a better job explaining the benefits to these struggling people, and taking care of the second part of the equation: making sure their communities have the education, training, and tools to be part of the new economic reality.

Hey my younger daughter says she does not have too much homework this weekend, and the older one is home from Georgia Tech (still undefeated!) for a long weekend. Want to get our families together? Give a call.

Regards,
Tom

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Filed under: Letters to the President • Opinion • President Barack Obama • T1 • Tom Foreman
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