Wal-Mart drives Democrats batty

Posted: Aug 25, 2006 12:01 AM
Wal-Mart drives Democrats batty

Ned Lamont's primary victory against Joe Lieberman in Connecticut supposedly represented the triumph of the antiwar, anti-Bush "net roots" within the Democratic Party. Alas, our troop presence in Iraq is increasing; it appears Lieberman, running as an independent, will trounce Lamont; and President Bush is having his best week in the polls in six months (which is not quite the same thing as saying he's doing well in the polls).

So, have the Lamonters and other victims of so-called BDS - Bush derangement syndrome - been routed? Not quite. Because BDS sufferers have a related secondary affliction: WMDS. This refers not to the unfound weapons of mass destruction but to Wal-Mart derangement syndrome. And the Democratic Party is ministering to these patients with reckless abandon.

The New York Times reported recently that the Democrats have, en masse, declared their party to be the enemy of the mega-box store. Sen. Joe Biden Jr., D-Del., recently delivered what the Times called a "blistering attack" on the company at an anti-Wal-Mart rally in Iowa, and other Democrats have appeared at similar events. Indeed, one of the few times Lieberman and Lamont appeared at the same event during their primary contest was at an anti-Wal-Mart clambake in the Nutmeg State.

This bonfire of buffoonery is helping me learn to love Wal-Mart. First, let's talk politics. More people shop at Wal-Mart every week (127 million) than voted in the 2004 presidential election, according to a company Web site. They are disproportionately low-income folks who, by some estimates, are collectively saving hundreds of billions of dollars by shopping there.

Compounding the electoral asininity is the glorious hypocrisy of it all. Hillary Rodham Clinton - who returned a donation from the devilish retailer - was on Wal-Mart's board of directors from the mid-1980s until the 1992 presidential campaign. If the store's policies are so un-Progressive, how come it never occurred to her to do anything about it until now? Similarly, former would-be first lady Teresa Heinz attacked the store in 2004, saying it "destroys communities" - which apparently never stopped her from hawking her ketchup there or owning $1 million in Wal-Mart stock. Even Lamont, the golden boy of the new yuppie populism, owns a few thousand bucks of Wal-Mart stock.

The most delicious moment in the WMDS hysteria came last week, when civil rights icon Andrew Young had what some are calling his Mel Gibson moment. Hired as a flack for Wal-Mart, Young gave an interview to the black-owned Los Angeles Sentinel in which he celebrated Wal-Mart's role as a destroyer of small, locally owned stores. Wal-Mart, he explained, "ran the mom-and-pop stores out of my neighborhood. But you see, these are the people who have been overcharging us - selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans, and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores."

His remarks about Asians, Arabs and Jews sounded bigoted, particularly coming from a civil rights crusader and former U.N. ambassador. Although it's hard to tell if his liberal confreres are more offended by his denunciation of supposedly predatory ethnic groups or his defense of the company Democrats are demonizing.

Regardless, the delicious part is that Young was basically right on both counts. It costs a lot of money to be poor. Go into a small grocery store - whether owned by blacks, Jews, Arabs or Koreans - in a poor neighborhood and you'll be stunned at how expensive basic foodstuffs are. Poor people can't afford to drive to the suburbs to shop at mega-stores. And small-business people - often "middleman minorities" such as Koreans or West Indians - can't afford the cheap prices and updated inventory that come with the economies of scale that the big chains enjoy. These ethnic entrepreneurs aren't ripping off the poor. They are providing a service that big corporations won't, often at considerable risk.

Now, Wal-Mart wants to provide the inner-city poor the same billions in savings it has delivered to suburban and rural areas, creating more jobs for the inner-city poor than it supposedly destroys in the process. But the Democrats are standing in the way because labor unions hate Wal-Mart's policies and because Wal-Mart bashing has a placebo effect on Bush-bashing addicts.

It's horrific politics and silly public policy - but a joy to watch.