November 7, 2004

Dems to Declare War on Wal-Mart

The Boston Globe asked five Democrats where their party stands after the election defeat the other night. A one Rick Perlstein, chief political correspondent for the Village Voice, says they need to make Wal-Mart an issue(via John Miller at The Corner):


ON ELECTION MORNING I was listening to National Public Radio -- part of what Nation columnist Eric Alterman calls the "So-Called Liberal Media" -- when I heard the kind of thing that drives Democrats like me around the bend. A commentator was explaining that the answer to all of Japan's economic woes was . . . Wal-Mart.

"It could drive smaller retailers out of business, free up land for better uses," I heard -- although I barely heard it over my own cursing. This is not a matter of free trade. It is about the fact that Wal-Mart is a corporate predator, alleged to have broken all kinds of labor, immigration, and anti-discrimination laws. What's more, economists have argued that, far from boosting weak local economies, the presence of a Wal-Mart store in a town kills more jobs than it replaces. Why, I asked my radio, does NPR feel that the dictates of "balance" require them to put on radical right-wing free market ideologues, even when they're telling less than half the truth?

Then, the announcer gave the identity of the commentator, and I really got mad. It was a former undersecretary of commerce for the Clinton administration -- a Democrat.

This is an election story. One year ago, I reported in an article from Rockford, Ill., that when heartland Americans are asked what they think is going wrong with America, "Wal-Mart" is one of the first words out of their mouths. "They pay their workers substandard wages," one factory worker told me. Interestingly, his boss hates them even more -- for the way they force manufacturing jobs out of the country in their too-ruthless drive to cut costs. Judy, another factory owner, who soon after I spoke to her lost her business, said it was a family values issue: "The moms that used to have a factory job with me and who go home at the end of eight hours . . . and take care of their children and have decent day care, now they're working two jobs at Wal-Mart with no health benefits."

And yet the Democrats are not in a position to capitalize on this sort of broad-based frustration with our nation's present Wal-Mart economy, because they are complicit in it. Here's one example: Hillary Clinton is a former member of the board of directors of Wal-Mart. She should not be able to get within spitting distance of a Democratic presidential nomination until she explains, if not apologizes for, her service on it.

For a party whose major competitive advantage over the opposition is its credibility in protecting ordinary people from economic insecurity, anything that compromises that credibility is disastrous.

Even worse, the Democrats don't need Wal-Mart's support -- but the Republicans certainly do: Eighty percent of the staggering $1.5 million in contributions from Wal-Mart's political action committee, the second biggest in corporate America, went to Republicans. The stronger this corporation is, the better off the Republican Party is. And, this Democrat believes, the worse off America is.

We've already heard a lot about the rise of the evangelical vote in this presidential election. Well, God-fearing middle Americans who also fear for their families' economic security would be far more likely to vote their economic interests -- rather than on matters like gay marriage and abortion -- if the Democratic Party beat a public retreat from a politics that condones or even celebrates the Wal-Martization of America and the world. This is the way forward for the Democrats.

Posted by Bob on November, 7 2004 at 02:03 PM