John McCain probably didn't go to Youngstown last week expecting enthusiastic applause for his support of NAFTA. He surely didn't expect listeners at Youngstown State University to swoon or sway rapturously as he preached the virtues of free trade. In Ohio's hard-hit Rust Belt, McCain drew polite applause, but no loud huzzahs, when he insisted that globalization is good.




The campaign stop, part of McCain's tour of "forgotten places," highlighted the senator's reputed penchant for straight talk, for refusing to pander no matter how unpopular his message. "Protectionism and isolationism have never worked in American history," McCain said, according to The Associated Press.




He may be right, but his message would be more palatable if McCain were offering hard-pressed workers something other than the same dried-out message about education and job training. Retraining for what?




McCain is stuck with the GOP's dogmatic insistence on both free markets and a ragged social safety net, a dangerous combination for workers battered by globalization. If protectionism doesn't work, what does? Setting workers adrift without health care or pensions? Dismissing their worries as parochial and unsophisticated?




The Arizona senator, like much of the nation's leadership class, is badly out of touch with the struggles of average citizens. He has been married for nearly 28 years to the heir to a beer distributorship; Cindy Hensley McCain is believed to be worth more than $100 million. And as a member of the U.S. Senate, he has excellent health insurance.




(For pure entertainment value, nothing has been richer than listening to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama denigrate each other as "elitist." Largely because of the popularity of his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," Obama and his wife earned more than $5 million in 2006 and 2007. Meanwhile, Clinton and her husband have earned more than $100 million since leaving the White House.)




McCain's good fortune should not disqualify him from the presidency, but you'd think it would spur him to grapple with the struggles of those who fear an unexpected illness will wipe out their savings, or those who wonder whether they can afford to send all their children to college. It's a bit cavalier to just say, as he did in Youngstown, that the nation is undergoing an "information and technology revolution" and "we've got to be part of that new economy, rather than try to cling to an old economy."




Here's what the new economy has done for the average American: precious little. In 2000, median yearly household income, adjusted for inflation, was $49,447, according to The Wall Street Journal, which crunched data from the Census Bureau. 2006, median household income had fallen to $48,223.




While the economy expanded significantly starting in 2001, those gains went disproportionately to the wealthiest households. The income of the top — percent grew at an annual rate of 11 percent from 2002 to 2006, while the incomes of the remaining 99 percent grew at less than — percent annually during those years, according to the Journal.




Even a college degree is no bulwark against the battering ram of global trade. Princeton economist Alan Blinder, a longtime proponent of cross-border commerce, now says that it will create more severe social and economic upheaval than he once believed. He predicts that 30 million to 40 million American jobs are likely to be shipped overseas in the next 10 to 20 years, some of them in white-collar occupations such as financial analyst, microbiologist, graphic designer, radiologist and, oddly, economist.




Those who still put great faith in free trade &

Democrats and Republicans alike &

need to look beyond their platitudes to see the displacement and anxiety it has created among middle-class workers. Their worries are not born of ideology but of a hard and bitter experience that has left them anxious about the future. When the factory where you've worked for years shuts down or your company stops offering health insurance, you're not much interested in hearing about Adam Smith and theories of comparative advantage.




You need something you can take to the bank.




is the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the opinion page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reach her at cynthia@ajc.com.