Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Code Words

“He’s worse than Nixon in his vulgarity. He looks like he shops at Wal-Mart."

- Filmmaker Oliver Stone on President George W. Bush
I grew up in the South in Sixties and Seventies, attending the first integrated elementary school in my home town. Does that make me an "expert" on racism, say like David Leonard or John Streamas? No, but I certainly know it when I see it. By that time, racism wasn't terribly overt. The N-word was never used in polite company. Code words were used instead. Typically, those words involved third person pronouns. For example: "We don't want 'their kind' in our neighborhood; "'They' bring in drugs and crime"; "Don't bring one of 'them' home."

Discrimination certainly is not restricted to skin color. Probably the oldest form of prejudice is based on socioeconomic class. While racism is not publicly tolerated any longer, classism is alive and well in 21st Century America. According to Wikipedia, individual classism includes behaviors such as making jokes or stereotypes at the expense of the poor, or treating workers in menial jobs as stupid or unworthy of respect. This is especially prevalent when applied to lower class whites. You know, rednecks, hillbillies, white trash, hicks, trailer trash, and Carmento Floyd's "crackers" . Look at TV shows like "King of the Hill" and "My Name is Earl" or movies like "Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby." As Jim Goad details in the "The Redneck Manifesto", it's America's dirty little secret.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our local opposition to Wal-Mart. But just as with racism, code words are used like "urban sprawl," "traffic," " Mom and Pop stores downtown," "quality of life", "not sustainable, "living wages," "deer testicles,", etc., etc. Why do I say that opposition to Wal-Mart is classist? Simple. If the opponents truly believed all the arguments they make against Wal-Mart, they wouldn't engage im the laughably pathetic logical exercise of vetting retailers, as with PARD's public support of Target and Costco. PARD's appeal to the District III Court of Appeals revolves around economic impact and traffic. Does anyone believe that Target or Costco wouldn't have exactly the same effects as Wal-Mart? Sure Costco's business model may be more politically correct than Wal-Mart's, but Costco is still just a business seeking to make a profit, not some religious order. Even Costco is currently the subject of a large class-action gender discrimination lawsuit. No, Target and Costco are more SOCIALLY palatable, appealing to higher-end demographics. Also, by endorsing Target and Costco, PARD can appear to be "business-friendly" and cover up their classist agenda.

C'mon, admit it. You know it's true. When I was a kid, we made fun of people who shopped at K-Mart. Now it's Wal-Mart. I was in a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Vancouver, WA last week. While walking down one of the aisles, I witnessed a mother first yelling at and then spanking one of her kids. What do you think most people's reaction is to vignettes like that? Despite their supposed virtues of "tolerance" and "diversity," your average liberal can't handle such in-your-face encounters with the lumpenproletariat.

This stench recently captured the attention of longtime Wal-Mart critic John Brummett:
Wal-Mart is starting to get treated unfairly by class snobbery, and it may be something that we in Arkansas, belabored as we are by inferiority complexes and chips on our shoulders, should take personally.

The front page of Monday's The Wall Street Journal reported that Wal-Mart, with profit margins still good but down, is encountering politically muscular resistance in its latest push into Northeastern urban centers. It quoted Mayor Thomas Merino of Boston as saying, "Wal-Mart does not suit the clientele we have in the city of Boston. They don't pay wages that are sufficient. Their benefit structure is poor. I don't need employers like that in our city."

That was as thoroughly arrogant and snobbish as any public pronouncement I've encountered since Barbara Bush last spoke. The mayor was presuming to speak for low-income people in his constituency. He was presuming to declare them not interested either in Wal-Mart's discounted staples or its jobs.

Then the article reported that the mayor was actively courting Target, which is Wal-Mart with a varnished veneer, and which has come under similar criticism for its wage and benefit structure.

That's pure snobbery against Wal-Mart
and it tests my resistance to geographic paranoia, considering that Target is from Minnesota and Wal-Mart from Arkansas.

Just recently, Wal-Mart and Target were making a move on Chicago when the city council passed an ordinance saying no retail establishment of a certain big-box square footage could pay less than $13 an hour in wages and benefits.

The intentions might have been worthy, but the policy was fatally flawed. A living wage beyond a legal minimum wage can't be legally or fairly applied on the basis of square footage, for heaven's sake.

Appropriately, Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago vetoed the ordinance.

My points are that Chicago's mayor is not the snob Boston's is and that Wal-Mart and Target have too much in common for Boston's mayor to go around snubbing one and wooing the other.

This Wal-Mart backlash may have lashed back entirely too far.
Sometimes, the classism almost sneaks out behind the noble rhetoric, like when Deirdre Sommerlad-Rogers testified under oath last year that Wal-Mart would lead to the "intrusion of undesirable social classes" into our fair community or Don Orlich alleging that those low-class Wal-Mart workers suck up our tax benefits with their welfare and Medicaid. It's been very apparent recently with Jeffrey Joswig-Jones' letter that Wal-Mart sells "junk" and TV Reed claiming that Wal-Mart sells "shoddy sweatshop made goods." Besides the utter absurdity of claiming the items made in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Vietnam sold in Wal-Mart are any different than those sold in Shopko (which PARDner Cynthia Hosick assures us they support), both writers sanctimoniously claimed that they don't shop at Wal-Mart. The implication is clear: "I'm too good to buy 'cheap crap' from Wal-Mart. If you do, then you're beneath me."

"But," the PARDners will sputter, "we're for the working class. We're trying to improve their lot in life..." Sure. Segregation was justified as being in the best interest of African-Americans. "But we have national studies that show..." Sure. There were all kinds of pseudo-science that alleged blacks were mentally and physically inferior to whites. "But we are fighting the good fight and advancing the cause..." Sure. The KKK felt it was fighting for "noble" causes such as state's rights, racial purity, and the virtue of white women. "But, the only people who support Wal-Mart are paid PR flacks..." Sure. In Bull Connor's and George Wallace's minds, the only people agitating for civil rights were Jews and Communists.

Let's just cut the BS. The whole battle over Wal-Mart in Pullman is nothing more than class warfare, pure and simple, just as vile and despicable as racism. That is the dark truth behind all of PARD's (and other Wal-Mart opponent's) posturing, deny it though they may.

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1 comment:

Sarcastic Housewife #1 said...

Now Tom, you know it isn't in their nature to cut the BS. Their job is to provide more for the rest of us to wade through. :-)