The Canadian network CTV reports that a senior staffer for the Obama campaign called the Canadian Ambassador to the US and said that he should ignore whatever Obama said about wanting to renegotiate NAFTA, because it was just for domestic consumption.
Obama denies it. The ambassador denies it. McCain, having first said he didn’t know whether it was true, later decides to assume it is true and use it to attack Obama’s integrity.
Turncoat Democrats are all over it; CTV originally stands by its story, which to fever-swamp residents like Taylor Marsh and Larry Johnson proves that it must be true. After all, since people in the Bush administration have told lies, anything a Canadian official says should be assumed to be false. (No, I don’t follow that logic, either.)
Just one thing, though: the story reeks of fish, and CTV, far from standing behind it, is rapidly backing away from it. The original account vaguely mentions “Canadian sources.” The follow-up, which includes denials from Obama and from the Ambassador, gets a little more specific: now the source is said to be “a high-ranking member of the Canadian embassy.” But suddenly that source isn’t so sure he had it right in the first place: “He has since suggested it was perhaps a miscommunication.”
Swiftly switching gears, CTV now claims to be pursuing, not a conversation between a senior Obama staffer and the Canadian Ambassador, but a phone call between Austan Goolsbee — not a staffer but an academic at the University of Chicago who has been advising Obama — and someone (unnamed, of course) in the Canadian Consulate-General in Chicago.
Since we have no evidence for any of this save the word of CTV, and since CTV can’t get its story straight, anyone who claims to believe the story — that is, McCain and his odd bedfellows Marsh and Johnson — ought to be presumed to be in bad faith. It might be true, but there’s no reason for any fair-minded person to believe that it’s true.
Is it possible that Goolsbee — like most economists, a free trader by instinct — tried to say something calming to someone he knew at the Consulate General in Chicago? Sure. But so what?
Footnote Both Clinton and Obama are to be condemned for their irresponsible pretense that we can or should force Mexico and Canada to renegotiate NAFTA by threatening to withdraw from it. That’s not how a decent country, or a country that wants to rebuild its foreign relations after eight years of intolerable arrogance, ought to act.