The Democrats squared off last night in the party's latest presidential campaign debate, this one sponsored by the AFL-CIO. But just before the curtains went up, and the cameras went live, MSNBC political correspondent Chris Matthews appeared on TV and, in response to a question about free trade, presented a disturbingly realistic assessment on the state of America's heartland. It's an analysis that national politicians, for the most part, continue to ignore. Even as they stood on a stage in Solidier Field, in the City of Chicago, on the shores of the Great Lakes, not one candidate offered a comprehensive strategy to see the American Midwest get its groove back. Meanwhile, voters in crucial swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wiscosin hunger for leadership.
Here's an excerpt of Matthews remarks on the Tucker Carlson show:
CARLSON: So do you—I think what you‘re saying is [union workers] vote with their minds as well as their hearts. They are not going to award an endorsement to a guy simply because he has been with them. They want to back someone who has a shot of winning.
MATTHEWS: They want a president. It‘s simple as that. They do not want just a nominee, even. They want a president of the United States who will do labor‘s bidding, give them check card neutrality, toughen up on trade issues, get the minimum wage, give them all the issues they care about. They want it now. They have been out in the cold for too long, these guys. As it‘s been pointed out on your program for the last few minutes, labor is getting smaller. It is not getting better. They need help.
CARLSON: The trade issue is just a fascinating one to me. Bill Clinton, of course, the face of free trade and NAFTA. How is Mrs. Clinton going to navigate?
MATTHEWS: It is absolutely ironic, you‘re right. Because it was not a Republican who delivered NAFTA. It was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, in 1993 and 1994. He came through and created free-trade as a regime for American economics. It has worked for a lot of people. But, as I have said so many times, the de-industrialization of America continues year after year.
The big auto companies are in trouble. All the factory towns are dying. There are so many towns across the Rust Belt, from Buffalo out to Chicago—Go through those small towns. Nothing is left but a Blockbuster movie place and a diner. Everything else is rust. It is all across the northeast and through the Midwest. I do not know what Hillary Clinton is going to do about this. She says she‘s going to re-industrialize America.
Well, that will be the day. That‘s why you have to wonder why labor does not put up its big strong muscle and say, damn it, we want our factory jobs back. Give us the policies that will do it, and ask the Democrats to put up or shut up.
CARLSON: What does that mean? I have heard that phrase a couple of times today, re-industrialize America. Is that the idea that we are going to start making big heavy metal things again?
MATTHEWS: It means that when you graduate from high school, you can get a job at a plant, like the old Bud plant in Philadelphia, where they build big things like subway cars, or trains, or whatever. Something big you‘re right, something big that requires muscle and big industry. We do not do that anymore in this country. We don‘t even have cigar plants anymore.
CARLSON: I wish we did do that. I am sad that we do not do that. But the idea that we are going to do that any time soon is ridiculous. Isn‘t it?
MATTHEWS: It is under current policy, and it certainly is given world competition. The advantage we have in free trade is you and I can go to a store, and we can choose clothes from everywhere in the world, incredibly attractive clothing, khakis, shirts, socks, everything. You can pick out exactly what you want, the size you want and walk out of the store with it already fitted. That‘s because of free trade.
But the cost is down in North Carolina and South Carolina, those textile industries are not in good shape. That‘s the difference. Some people are winning; some people are losing. The winners have more clout than the losers. That‘s why we‘re having free trade as a regime in this country. Isn‘t that the case?