Ron Johnson is the leading candidate in the Wisconsin Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Russ Feingold. Johnson recently shocked the state by describing job losses from NAFTA and CAFTA as "creative destruction" and that "if it weren’t for that we’d still have buggy whip companies."

I came to learn of this bizarre (and frankly, politically stupid) comment when listening to an interview with John Nichols, who is, among many other things, an associate editor of the Capital Times, a Madison, Wisconsin newspaper.

Speaking to a local talk radio host, Nichols perfectly described Johnson's comments as being the sort of thing one might parrot from the "success" books found in airport newsstands - the ones printed in really large type and filled with meaningless business buzz-phrases.

Last week, Nichols wrote the Capital Times endorsement of Johnson's primary opponent, and it's a good read. As Nichols states, it's rare for the Cap Times to endorse anyone in a primary, but Johnson is clearly in way over his head and out of touch with Wisconsin citizens:

Several weeks ago, Johnson claimed on Wisconsin Public Radio that "the fact of the matter is NAFTA and CAFTA have actually been successful for our economy." The multimillionaire was then asked if it wasn’t true that Wisconsin businesses blamed free-trade deals "for hurting their business."


"Well, in a free-market capitalist system, there are always winners and losers," preached Johnson. "It’s creative destruction. That just happens. It’s unfortunate. But let’s face it, if it weren’t for that we’d still have buggy whip companies."

Where to start? First, the "buggy whip" reference is proof Johnson has no idea what he's talking about. The "buggy whip" metaphor has itself become the buggy whip of business-speak, but don't you get the impression Johnson just heard about it and finds it inspired? Nobody says buggy whip any more, but even if one did, the buggy whip is a symbol of what happens when companies skimp on product development and ignore consumer demand. It has nothing to do with labor costs.

Second, last time I looked, we are still using automobiles and paper, but the manufacturing of those products has begun to migrate out of Wisconsin to Canada and Mexico. Now, I love the Mexicans and the Canadians (well, the Mexicans), but Canada and Mexico are not hotbeds of automotive and wood-fiber innovation. It's only about the labor costs, and the free trade agreements make it virtually impossible for Wisconsin's workers to compete. By design, many believe.

The Nichols interview is here. He gives a great explanation of why the supposed "free trade" agreements are killing American manufacturing. It's worth a listen.

I believe this is where Johnson made his ridiculous remarks (I have no desire to infect my PC with Real anything), but to show how out of touch he is, I offer this comment from Johnson's Republican opponent, Dave Westlake:

"I think he should apologize for being so insensitive and for using such a ridiculous claim that this is simply going to happen and that we should somehow say that this is OK," says Westlake. "It’s not."

Originally posted to Giles Goat Boy on Mon Aug 23, 2010 at 10:18 AM PDT.

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