"The New Democrats believe that you cannot be a majority party as long as you're anti-trade," says TIME Washington correspondent Jay Branegan. "People like free trade. But most of the party's members still need labor's support to get reelected." Republican leaders, meanwhile, have fulfilled one of their party's more popular and lucrative destinies as the party of trade and business and looked smart for knowing when to get along with the chief executive. As for all the promises of how free trade with China will breed capitalism, democracy and world peace, it'll be decades before sensible judgments get passed on those. But in the meantime, those on the winning side can count on the corporate campaign money rolling in. And that's good policy for any elected official.
America's China policy is now officially a businesslike one. The House of Representatives ended weeks of sputtering, vote-counting and furious arm-twisting Wednesday evening with a relatively comfortable 237-197 passage of the bill granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China. Businessmen and economists rejoiced, Big Labor gnashed its teeth and tore its hair. Bill Clinton (with an assist from the Republicans, the ex-presidents and the economic good times) pulled a NAFTA encore and convinced America that free trade is still a good thing, and maybe convinced historians there'll be something good to write about him when he's gone. And it may well be the beginning of Democrats' realization that a majority of them are on the wrong side of a very expensive issue.