We knew it wasn't too much to ask of an administration, and now President George W. Bush has proved us right.
All we -- and dozens of steel companies and tens of thousands of steel workers -- wanted was an honest inquiry into whether some foreign countries have been "dumping" steel on U.S. markets -- selling their product at below cost. For years, the Clinton administration, which prided itself on its supposed affinity for American working men and women, refused to take any meaningful action against unfair trade in the steel industry.
What happened: Even while nearly a score of U.S. steel companies filed for bankruptcy, Clinton and his Commerce Department refused to act. Even as tens of thousands of steel workers were laid off, the administration gave them nothing more than lip service. Even as some plants were closed for good, the Clinton administration pretended nothing was wrong.
It was as if it didn't really matter if Americans made steel. The economy was good, inflation was not a problem, the United States was the high-tech leader of the world. To some in that heady atmosphere, the steel industry was an anachronism.
Maybe because of our Mahoning Valley roots, we never bought into that nonsense. But someone doesn't have to grow up or live in the Mahoning Valley or Pittsburgh or Gary, Ind., to know that steel is important. At least they shouldn't have to.
Risky business: Common sense ought to tell anyone that a nation allows its basic industries to be undercut by unfair competition at its own peril.
Once the American industries that use steel to make cars and appliances and tools and buildings are thoroughly hooked on cheap imported steel, and once America's steel mills are reduced to rust, once the workers who knew how to make steel and took pride in their work have gone on to other trades -- what then?
Does anyone seriously think that our friends in Asia and South America are going to continue selling steel to U.S. companies at bargain basement prices? Of course they won't.
To be sure, we have been troubled by the effect of unfair trade on the steel industry because steel still provides an important number of jobs in this area -- though fewer today than when the dumping first began. But beyond our parochial interest in the steel industry, we were deeply troubled -- no, frightened -- by the prospect of the slaughter of an industry that helped make this nation great.
A human face: The stories of individual human hardship are real. Roseann Holmes, a junior at Champion High School, told one of them at a rally of steel workers in Washington, D.C., last week. Her father was among 1,400 people who lost their jobs at CSC Ltd. in Warren three months ago. He had worked there for 28 years, in the days when the "C" was spelled out: Copperweld.
She spoke of college plans delayed or changed, and of dreams deferred, but not abandoned.
But if the human stories weren't enough to sway the hearts of Washington's politicians, the practical disadvantages of allowing the continued dumping of steel should carry the day.
Not only does dumping imperil the steel industry, but it emboldens our trading partners to open attacks on other industries.
The U.S. International Trade Commission and the Bush administration have an opportunity to send a strong, clear message to our trading partners that we are open to fair trade, but not predatory trade.