For unapologetic cynicism, it’s hard to beat the events surrounding President Obama’s trip today to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon to tout the virtues of his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.
The kind of smugness that college kids should be ashamed of flaunting, much less grown ups in the public eye, first emerged with White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s reply to questions about the president’s choice of Nike as a trade pitch backdrop. Asked about the company’s record of employing workers in very low income Asian countries under exploitative conditions, Earnest replied, “I’m confident … they would be happy to explain their record to you on those issues. There is, you know, an office somewhere, probably in Beaverton, Oregon, with very well compensated, extremely skilled communications professionals who can say all kinds of nice things about Nike.” Kudos to the reporter who quoted him for calling the company – and letting readers know of its conspicuous silence on the issue.
The arrogance continued with Nike’s own announcement as Mr. Obama arrived that if Congress passed the TPP, it would create tens of thousands of manufacturing and logistical jobs in the United States “over the next ten decade.” The White House press corps dutifully reported the promise, but only some noted that Nike provided no details as to how or why this domestic jobs boomlet would occur. And although the company referred to the benefits it would secure from lower or abolished footwear tariffs throughout the TPP region, these seem to be too modest already to make or break Nike’s plans “to accelerate development of new advanced manufacturing methods and a domestic supply chain to support U.S. based manufacturing.”
Further, no one seems to have noticed that by the time Nike’s self-imposed deadline arrived, not only would President Obama be history, but two more presidential terms will have come and gone. If that reminds you of the time-frames involved in most politicians’ promises to balance the federal budget, that’s no accident.
Finally, the Nike employees assembled to hear the president deserve a big Bronx cheer as well. It’s nice that they cheered Mr. Obama’s claim (baseless) that the TPP’s terms would require very low-wage Vietnam, a major Nike production platform “actually, for the first time…to raise its labor standards. It would have to set a minimum wage. It would have to pass safe workplace laws to protect its workers. It would even have to protect workers’ freedom to form unions — for the very first time.” What was completely off-putting was their reaction to his caveat that “It doesn’t mean that suddenly working conditions in Vietnam will be like they are here at Nike.” In a word? “(laughter).” Something to remember when you do your next sneaker shopping.