After growing up seeing how the rest of the world works, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is eager to export “the American way.”
But the Rhode Island Democrat, like other progressives in his party and unlike neoconservatives in the other party, says he wants to use trade policy, both as carrot and stick, and almost never bombs, bullets and rockets.
“We shouldn’t have free trade with countries that don’t honor private property rights, that don’t allow some modicum of a free press and basic civil rights,” he says, adding that some governments will tend to cheat on human rights, anti-pollution and free-press agreements.
“Somewhere along the line, we have to make sure our trade policies don’t turn from a theory that expands economic efficiency into a device that allows countries to race to the bottom in violation of basic norms that maintain civilized behavior,” he told The Washington Times in an interview at his offices in the Hart Senate Office Building.
His almost Wilsonian desire to export the American system of governance comes from seeing firsthand what living without property, civil and labor rights is like.
“I grew up in the Foreign Service,” says Mr. Whitehouse, whose father was a World War II Marine Corps pilot and then U.S. ambassador to Laos and Thailand.
“I lived in Cambodia, South Africa, the Philippines, Guinea, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. I have seen an awful lot of poverty and corruption on a scale we can’t even imagine in the U.S. To me, it is a beneficence to share American values with other countries so long as we do it in a thoughtful, sensitive, diplomatic way,” he says.
This eagerness to spread U.S. ways is one example of Mr. Whitehouse’s belief that bipartisanship can work - on matters of “fundamental patriotism.”
While ferocious partisanship “has its place,” he says, liberals and conservatives share enough common ground to make Washington work better, though he also understands that proposition alone is enough to make some on the right grab for their wallets and the Constitution.
“Regardless of secondary issues - even big ones - there is a first issue,” he says. “It’s about loyalty to America, to its principles, to our history - a sort of fundamental patriotism that is across the board, for liberals and conservatives.”
A big man with a relentlessly sunny disposition, the former Rhode Island attorney general can sound like a teacher reading from a 1959 civics textbook. “Left and right, we’re very common as a people in our loyalty to America and understanding that America is a vision and not just a country where you come to take stuff.”
Then the realistic ex-prosecutor in him kicks in.
“Where liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans go from there and what they think are the next steps for America to take to fully achieve its promise is a second-order question,” he says.
Although those second-order questions can be deal breakers, his answers have mostly followed the Democratic Party line at the time while also representing principles of governance that rested a notch or two above knee-jerk partisanship.
He co-sponsored an amendment to end funding for the Iraq war - and some philosophical conservatives agree with the underlying sentiment.