The TV pictures from Seattle offer the latest proof that, when it comes to the nightly TV news, ugly sells. Build a globally competitive economy, as they've done in the state of Washington, and the story gets marooned in the financial pages. Chuck a rusty newspaper box through a Starbucks window and you get your puss on Dan Rather.
This is the upside-down story of the past week's jamboree in Seattle. The mounted police, the swat teams in riot gear, the hot-dogging protester dodging rubber bullets, the smashed store windows, the looter heading off with his new television all produced an irresistible portrait of late-20th-century America. The environmentalists, pro-Tibet activists, labor unions and animal-rights folk had written and delivered their statement for the whole world to read: We, the people, oppose free trade.
The fact is we love it, as anyone visiting this country can see. We like going to stores that have every choice of clothing or technology or food or drink that pops up on the world market. We like going online to buy whatever we want at the cheapest price we can find, unfettered by any barrier whatsoever, whether it be by government or business.
We like the freedom to match wits with the world, to cut or reject any deal that gets put before us by whatever means.
And that overwhelmingly includes the people of the state of Washington. Eight of its nine members in the U.S. Congress voted for both the North American Free Trade Agreement and for GATT. The record is a surprise to no one. As anyone familiar with the Northwest knows, Washington is as much a trading state as its Pacific Rim counterpart, Japan.
This free-trade philosophy is showcased by Washington's three most famous brand names: Boeing, Starbucks and Microsoft.
Walk through the streets of Seattle on any week but this last and you capture the human culture that has arisen alongside such dynamic enterprises: mobile, excited, informal. Here you can spot a guy heading to work not by his necktie there are none but by his Starbucks cup.
The president most connected to this modern way-of-life and most responsible for the bipartisan, free-trade spirit which so closely accompanies it is William Jefferson Clinton.
"We cannot grow the American economy in the 21st century," he said in Seattle last week, "unless we continue to sell more to a world that is prospering and that is more connected with everyone else in the world."
Anyone who protests this argument should pay heed to the alternative view put forward by Patrick J. Buchanan and his new friends on the far, equally protectionist left. His troglodyte screeching provides the perfect background noise to the sound of metal news boxes crashing through Starbucks windows. Adorned in pinstripes and shined shoes, he speaks with the same nasty intimidation as the street tough who demands to squeegee your car window knowing full well, as you do yourself, that it's perfectly clean. (Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC and MSNBC cable channels. Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)