Tainted Food and Dangerous Toys: Will a "Consumer President" emerge in 2008?

Black Friday has come and gone. In the midst of the Christmas and holiday shopping season, American consumers are very worried about the safety of the food, toys, and other products displayed on store shelves. Massive recalls of spinach, peanut butter, pet food, toothpaste, tires, toys, ground beef, chili, baby cribs, and import alerts for seafood have shaken the confidence of shoppers. Some of the recalls have been for home-grown products, like ground beef contaminated with the deadly E-coli O157:H7 bacteria. However, the vast majority of recalled products have been imports from China, for example, millions upon millions of toys so far this year.

In the meantime while consumers struggle to identify safe products, the Bush Administration issues proposals and the Democrat-led Congress takes a two week Thanksgiving recess. New legislation to address the food and product safety crisis winds its way through the various committees in Congress, giving industry lobbyists plenty of time to water it down.

Can we hope for a brighter future after the 2008 presidential election?

A review of the current presidential candidates' official campaign websites, statements, and actions reveals a deafening silence on the Republican side. Perhaps this is because the Republican candidates delegate shopping to their wives. In addition, Ron Paul is a fanatic cheerleader for free markets, no matter what the consequences. Mitt Romney and his pals at Bain Capital have invested in a toy retailer. Rudy cannot connect the dots between 9/11 and "Aqua Dots" (the recalled toy whose small beads metabolized into gamma hydroxy butyrate aka the date rape drug). John McCain is too focused on troop surges to focus his attention on the flood of contaminated products crossing our open borders. Fred Thompson is out shopping at gun shows, not at Safeway. Only Mike Huckabee has spoken out against imported food. But his concern is about food security -- the possibility that an enemy country could cut off our imported food supply. He is not addressing what is happening now -- a trading partner which is poisoning us, our pets, and our kids.

On the Democratic side, John Edwards was the first and only candidate to devise specific policy positions on product safety. He was out front on food safety back in September and then in early November updated his campaign policy positions with reform proposals for imported toys and medicines as well.

Barack Obama introduced legislation back in 2005 to ban lead in children's toys but Congress did not act on his bill. Obama has now called for a Congressional investigation on this entire issue, as has Edwards. Chris Dodd called for a moratorium on Chinese imports back in August. Since then he has not listed this as an "issue" on his campaign website. Joe Biden is focused on portioning Iraq and talking to Musharraf in Pakistan, not on food and toy safety for Americans. Dennis Kucinich blames the whole mess on Bill Clinton's decision seven years ago to open trade with China and he blames Edwards for voting for it. He does not offer any detailed solutions, except repeal of all trade agreements. Bill Richardson urged New Mexico parents to check their children's toys against the Consumer Product Safety Commission recall list.

What about the media anointed front runner? Hillary's website was silent on food and toy safety until after the recent Democratic debate in Las Vegas, when CNN's Campbell Brown asked a question about toy safety. Shortly thereafter, Hillary made a speech in Iowa and issued a press release expressing her newfound concerns. She was then attacked by a Chinese government spokesman because of her criticism of China's product safety record.

Lou Dobbs, the putative "independent" candidate has been enraged about all the recalls and has repeatedly attacked "Corporate America" and the "Chinese Communists" for their profiteering at the expense of American families.

For the near term, I believe that nothing will change unless and until American shoppers simply stop buying Chinese imports, American ground beef, and other products that have been the subject of continuing, massive recalls. When shoppers continue to buy, sellers have no incentive to improve.

Hopefully, the 2008 election will result in a badly needed "Consumer President". Today, of the 13 presidential candidates now on the stage, John Edwards is the front runner.