Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Walmart and the Democrats

My parents and I are a study in contrasts...sort of.

I'm a centrist Republican, they are dyed-in-the-wool New Deal Democrats. I drive a late model Volkswagen made in Mexico, they are retired autoworkers who are proud United Auto Workers members. Where these contrasts get a bit strange is where we shop for discount goods: I tend tend to shop at Target; they shop at Walmart.

Walmart. This behemouth of a retailer is considered basically evil by many people. I've decided not to shop there because of some of their labor practices. My parents are quite aware of this, and yet shop there anyway. In fact, when the visited me here in Minnesota recently from my native Michigan, they got gas at the local Sam's Club because they are members and it's cheaper than regular gas.

I don't understand why my parents shop at a place that seems antithetical to their beliefs, but they do and maybe I don't have to understand.

What's interesting to me is that many of the people who object to Walmart tend to be more middle-class. People like myself like to go to Target which tends to market itself as an upscale discounter. Walmart appeals to the working class folk like my parents who don't care about design, they just want something at a good price.

All of this has led to me to wonder if a lot of the protest against Walmart has more to do with class than it has to do with things like health care or wages. I mean, Target probably pays the same wages that Walmart does in markets where they both compete. Walmart is even getting into the organics business,joining the trend among retailers to offer healthier and sustainable foodstuffs.

The Los Angles Times has a worthwhile editorial about how the Democrats are shamefully demonizing Walmart. Here's a choice quote:

At an anti-Wal-Mart rally last week in Iowa, [Joe]Biden noted that the retailer pays people $10 an hour, and then asked: "How can you live a middle-class life on that?" It's clearly the company's fault, at least from a skewed senatorial perspective, that all Americans cannot live a comfortable middle-class life. How dare it pay prevailing retail wages? Bayh, who appeared at another rally, was quoted as saying that Wal-Mart is "emblematic of the anxiety around the country." That may be true. But if it's the emblem he's worried about, he should stay in Washington and work to make healthcare more affordable for working families.

The gusto with which even moderate Democrats are bashing Wal-Mart is bound to backfire. Not only does it take the party back to the pre-Clinton era, when Democrats were perceived as reflexively anti-business, it manages to make Democrats seem like out-of-touch elitists to the millions of Americans who work and shop at Wal-Mart.

The fact is, many working class joes, like my parents, shop at Walmart. They care about issues, but they tend to want their government to solve those issues. They aren't that concerned about how evil a company is. Which gets me back to class. Are those who rail against Walmart really concerned about worker wages or are they just looking down at a retailer that caters to people that aren't as trendy? And are the Dems making a mistake in taking up a cause that is championed by people who may not really be in tune with the realities of the American working class?

The Times seems to be making that point:

One reason the Democrats may have a tin ear on this subject is demographic. Certainly most of the party's urban liberal activists are far removed from the Wal-Mart phenomenon. The retailer has thrived mainly in small towns and exurbs, which is one reason a Zogby poll found that three-quarters of weekly Wal-Mart shoppers voted for President Bush in 2004, and why 8 out of 10 people who have never shopped at Wal-Mart voted for John Kerry. Denouncing the retailer may make sense if the goal is to woo primary activists, but it's a disastrous way to reach out to the general electorate. Or to govern, for that matter.

The fact is, a lot of my friends who dis Walmart are people like myself: we shop at more upscale places like Ikea and Trader Joe's. These places are precieved as being more upper middle class; Walmart is more working class; and despite all the talk of caring for the less off, I would bet that a lot of those who profess Walmart as Satan and shop at these more upscale places wouldn't want to be caught dead with those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

These days, I still don't shop at Walmart as much. But my opinion of how to deal with them is changing. Maybe instead of demonizing them, we should try to find ways to work with them. It's a good thing that Walmart is pursuing the organic market and that should be praised. Maybe we should also work with them to find ways to provide better living standards instead of always fighting with them. Maybe if politicians are so concerned about low wages and inadaquate or no health care, they should work for a better minimum wage and affordable health care in Washington (and not just bring it up during election years).

I think that if the Democrats want to become a majority party again, then it needs to actually become the "lunch box party" again. When I see more Kerry bumper stickers in more affulent areas than in working class areas, you know the Dems have a class problem.

As for those who detest Walmart; maybe we need to go there once in a while just to see "how the other half lives" instead of sitting in our comfortable areas talking about stuff we don't really know anything about.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hagel States the Obvious or Hagel Tells It Like It Is

Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is one of my favorite GOP leaders. I like him because he calls a spade a spade and he did that on Sunday on the current state of the Republican Party:

"First time I voted was in 1968 on top of a tank in the Mekong Delta," said Hagel, a Vietnam veteran. "I voted a straight Republican ticket. The reason I did is because I believe in the Republican philosophy of governance. It's not what it used to be. I don't think it's the same today."

Hagel asked: "Where is the fiscal responsibility of the party I joined in '68? Where is the international engagement of the party I joined _ fair, free trade, individual responsibility, not building a bigger government, but building a smaller government?"

His frustration does not lead him to think Democrats offer a better alternative. But Hagel wants to see the GOP return to its basic beliefs.

"I think we've lost our way," Hagel said. "And I think the Republicans are going to be in some jeopardy for that and will be held accountable."

If the GOP gets its head handed to them in the fall; one hopes they would come back to the party Hagel knew. That's a party I would be proud to be a part of again.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Late Night Musings on the Middle East

The recent dust-up in the Middle East has brought out predictable responses from people. Some see what Israel did today as being nothing more than a bully. Others think Israel was justified to stop a weapons transfer and castigate the UN. It's oh so simple: one side is the good side and the other the bad side. "We support Israel," says one side, "We support the Palestinians," says another.

Eric Black, a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune summed up nicely how people view the Middle East situation in his Big Question Blog:

If Israel is defending its right to exist against hostile, violent neighbors who reject that right, then using its military strength — even when it kills non-combatants — to defeat those who harbor visions of destroying the Jewish state seems at least understandable, probably reasonable.

If, on the other hand, Israel is an aggressive, expansionist power that harbors visions of a Greater Israel in all of historical Palestine, leaving no possibility of a viable homeland for those who now live in Gaza and the West Bank, then attacks on Israel by Palestinians and their sympathizers, maybe even attacks that Jerusalem and Washington categorize as terrorism, start to seem understandable, maybe even justifiable.

You can get a lot deeper into the details than this. And, as with most X or Y questions, you can start splitting the Xs and the Ys and seeking additional options. But, after years of learning about, thinking about and writing about the conflict, the essential perception that this is a conflict about Israel’s existence, or that this a conflict about Israel’s occupation of land captured in 1967, is the central question from which most of the rest of your perceptions and beliefs will follow.

Couldn't have said it better.

The thing is, it's not so easy. I mean, Israel does have a right to defend itself and there are people who want to destroy Israel. If a terrorist group was making daily life in my town miserable, I might understand the need to strike back. In it's short history, Israel has time and again faced enemies that wanted to basically wipe it off the map, so I can understand it's fear. Throw in a history of being a people without a land and then facing near genocide on the European continent and you've got a people that will damn sure try to prevent anyone from messing with them again.

On the other side are the Palestinians and other Arab states. The Palestinians have lived on the land for generations and they slowly see their land being taken away from them. The live in squalor and face a humiliating life. They long for a place to call their own. Other states like Lebanon want to create thriving societies. Even Syria, who is definitely not a nice country, wants part of the terrorities Israel seized in the '67 war back. There is good and bad on the Arab side, but they have some just concerns.

I think Israel is going to have to negotiate with its neighbors. The Palestinians are going to have to comply and work had to prevent terrorists from stopping the peace process.

I'm not one to say I support so and so. What I want is for Israeli kids and Palestinian kids to not have to live in fear. I want Lebanese kids to enjoy their beautiful country and not have to worry about bombs falling on their house. If there is a side I'm on, it's one that will find a just peace for all sides involved.

There is more I want to write about this, but it's late.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thoughts on the Liberman-Lamont Smackdown

Here are a few thoughts Connecticut Democrat Joe Liberman's loss against anti-war candidate Ned Lamont:

Note to Centrist Democrats: Welcome to my World. For the past 30 years or so, we've seen Centrist Republicans being driven to the point. The far right has targeted more moderate politicians, like Michigan's Joe Schwarz, claiming they are not true Republicans. I think we are in the infancy of a new movement to remove those Democrats who are not considered Democratic enough. Just as Centrist Republicans are tagged as "RINOS" (Republicans in Name Only) expect Centrist Dems to be considered "DINOS" (Democrats in Name Only). The Deaniac/Daily Kos/Firedoglake crowd has learned a trick or two from the far right: firing up the "base" means requiring purity of thought and purpose. The far left has seen the effectiveness of the Karl Rove tactic and has decided to copy the tactic. Because of Liberman's close association with Bush and his contrarian nature, he was considered a heretic not an indepentdent thinker. It's going to get tough over the coming months and years for moderate Democrats and I expect to see a lot of either marginalized Dems or former Dems in the near future.

This leads to my second observation:

Liberman was but the first to fall. There are commentators like EJ Dionne who say this is not the beginning of a purge of moderates with in the Democratic Party since others politicians who initially supported the Iraq War are not being targeted this year.


The reason the netroots went after Liberman is because he was low hanging fruit. He was the most visible target and the one that was easiest to pick off. Remember when, Hillary Clinton was booed earlier this year for her stance on Iraq? Centrist Democrats will have to be careful how they deal with issues like the war. Look for the netroots to demand that Democrats in Washington to support an immediate withdrawl or face their wrath. It may not happen this year, but watch 2008. Presidential and legislative candidates might not get the support of the party rank and file if they equivocate on this issue. My guess is that you will see centrists either change their tone to please the netroots or deal with the consequences.

Now, on yo Liberman:

Liberman should give it up. I can understand that he wants to run as an independent and part of me agrees with that. But I think Liberman should just fall on his sword for now and lay low for a while. Maybe join a think tank or some place like the Democratic Leadership Council where he could opine on policy. Maybe even consider an independent presidential candidacy in 2008 (Unity '08, anyone?).

The reason is that however noble his intentions might be, his independent run will burn bridges with the Democrats. Notice that a lot of Republicans are supporting Liberman. Some are good guys, like Chris Shays, but there are also some not so good guys. This will only confirm the suspicions of many that Liberman is really a Republican or at least a tool of the Bush-Rove team. I think right now it would make more sense to "play the good soldier" and step a side for a while and pondering his next moves instead of being tagged (however unfairly) as a quisling.

Look for nothing to get done. It's interesting that back in the days when the two major parties were less ideological than they are now, a lot of stuff got done. The GI Bill, the Interstate Highway Act, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts and the environmental laws of the late 60s and 70s, such as the Edangered Species Act were all passed during this time. Since both parties have become more ideologically rigid, there has been less work done by Congress. It's not that there aren't things that need to be done, but both parties are more interested in rallying their bases and playing "gotcha" with the other party. Take Social Security reform. Yes, the president's plan was terrible, but instead of proposing a better solution, the Democrats played obstruction. The same thing happened a decade earlier with health care reform when the Republicans played the same game. The Clubs for Growth and MoveOn.orgs of the world don't really care about serving the public. What they want to do is attack the other side and expel those who don't hue to their ideology.

Like some others, Liberman wasn't my favorite politician. I disagreed more than I agreed with him. I'm saddened by his loss not because I like him, but because we our political parties are becoming more conformist with less room from tolerance. What we see are people who place party before country and who are more interested in politics than in statecraft.

There are those who say that we need clarity to show what the parties stand for, to give people a choice. For those of us in the middle, it gives us the choice to support neither.

I'm wary about the prospects of a third centrist party, but as both parties harden, that prospect might become more of a reality.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A New Site for Centrist Republicans

There is a new site out there ala Red State for Centrist and "Goldwater Republicans." It's called GOP Progress and it launched today. The editor, Liz Mair, says this is a gathering place for mainstream Republicans:

WWW.GOPPROGRESS.COM is an interactive blog site created to give moderate and small “l” libertarian Republicans a forum for expressing their thoughts, discussing policies and politics, and meeting and networking with like-minded individuals.

The site is designed to allow users to read high-grade political commentary, including interviews with moderate political leaders, op-eds by Members of Congress on topical issues, and articles on major policy issues, while also having the opportunity to interact with the editors, moderate political leaders, and fellow moderates and libertarian-leaners through the use of diaries, and comments on stories.

In short, WWW.GOPPROGRESS.COM offers mainstream Republicans the opportunity to form a strong, organized, online community capable of influencing policy and politics in our party, and our country—and to have fun while doing it.

If you are a centrist or libertarian Republican, I would suggest logging on getting involved.