UPDATE: Canadian Report on Obama Aide's NAFTA Statement Debunked
UPDATE: After I posted the following account of a disturbing report about a conversation between a senior Obama aide and the Canadian ambassador about NAFTA, the Canadian embassy issued a statement denying the report (h/t Ben Smith at Politico):
A spokesman for the Canadian Embassy to the United States, Tristan Landry, flatly denied the CTV report that a senior Obama aide had told the Canadian ambassador not to take seriously Obama's denunciations of Nafta.
"None of the presidential campaigns have called either the Ambassador or any of the officials here to raise Nafta," Landry said.
The Obama campaign has also issued a strong statement:
“The news reports on Obama's position on NAFTA are inaccurate and in no way represent Senator Obama’s consistent position on trade. When Senator Obama says that he will forcefully act to make NAFTA a better deal for American workers, he means it. Both Canada and Mexico should know that, as president, Barack Obama will do what it takes to create and protect American jobs and strengthen the American economy -- that includes amending NAFTA to include labor and environmental standards. We are currently reaching out to the Canadian embassy to correct this inaccuracy,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.
A Canadian national television network reported last night that a senior campaign aide for Barack Obama contacted the Canadian ambassador and told him that Obama would be taking "heavy swings" against NAFTA while he campaigned in Ohio, but it was "campaign rhetoric" that should not be "taken seriously":
Clinton supporters are making much of this report today, arguing that it shows Obama is duplicitous and insincere.
It's obvious that this report raises questions that the Obama campaign must address, but I don't think it bears the weight that is being placed upon it. It wasn't Obama himself who spoke to the ambassador, and what we're hearing is a reporter's version of the ambassador's recollection of what was said -- it is a big stretch to take it as an accurate reflection of Obama's real thinking.
In any event, the subject of NAFTA is complex, and the intent of the aide may have been no more than to warn the ambassador against being alarmed by oversimplified sound bites. Neither candidate is against trade agreements per se, and both say they want to retool agreements like NAFTA rather than abolish them outright, although they are arguing about how long each has held that view. But in the realm of campaigning and reporting about campaigning their positions tend to get condensed to misleading phrases about who "opposes NAFTA" or "supports NAFTA."
In other words, look at it this way. The Canadian news outlet (and Clinton supporters) are taking the aide's reported conversation as signaling that Obama secretly supports retaining NAFTA exactly as it is. The conversation could have amounted to no more than a warning not to misinterpret Obama's position as wanting to abolish rather than retool the agreement, which would be consistent with what he said during the debate.