Just like her superdelegates, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) campaign staff is heading for the doors in record numbers. The latest exit stage right is chief presidential campaign strategist Mark Penn, who was forced out due to secretly meeting with Colombian trade officials while simultaneously telling the senator to continue bashing free trade. Although the New Yorker has supported free trade in the past, she has put up an anti-NAFTA façade in order to mesmerize the labor union vote and keep them pinned in her corner.

Early last week, Penn visited with Colombian leaders to discuss the pending free trade pact that Sen. Clinton (since Ohio’s primary) has criticized. While the senator supported NAFTA in her book and as first lady, she now opposes it solely to attract the liberal union vote.

NAFTA’s importance lingers far beyond the union vote and simple trading deals with America’s neighbors. It puts confidence in the quality of American-made goods. Free trade forces manufacturers to find efficient and economical ways to improve technology and goods, keeping American products competitive with the developing products of places like India and China. I’ve heard all the anti-free trade, “fair” trade rhetoric out there. But the bottom line is that international commerce has kept this country strong. Period. It’s even kept us from slipping into recession; just look at last year’s third-quarter numbers for proof of that.

This critical issue speaks for one of every nine jobs in America, both direct and indirect. If Sen. Clinton attempts to stifle every free trade conversation, then no progress or agreement will happen. What a wonderful, experienced foreign policy strategy! How will a “Fortress America” mentality help to restore our rightful place in the world, as she and Obama love to tout?

When HRC waffles on these issues simply to pick up a few union votes, the American economy and workforce are put at risk. Competition is crucial in this global economy. If the United States practices only protectionist policies, then we will find ourselves isolated and most likely technologically behind the rest of the world. Unless Clinton wants us to start losing products, jobs and trading partners like she is losing superdelegates, she needs to throw her support back behind free trade. She must actually stand up for what’s good for America, not what’s good for politics.

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