Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The War Room

Let's forget about Iraq for a second and take a gander at another war, this one on the homefront.

It seems that Wal-Mart has stolen a tactic from political campaigns
and has hired former political consultants to Reagan and Clinton to revamp their image in the face of effective broadsides by social activists and labor unions.
Inside a stuffy, windowless room here, veterans of the 2004 Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns sit, stand and pace around six plastic folding tables. Open containers of pistachio nuts and tropical trail mix compete for space with laptops and BlackBerries. CNN flickers on a television in the corner.

The phone rings, and a 20-something woman answers. "Turn on Fox," she yells, running up to the TV with a notepad. "This could be important."

A scene from a campaign war room? Well, sort of. It is a war room inside the headquarters of Wal-Mart, the giant discount retailer that hopes to sell a new, improved image to reluctant consumers.

Wal-Mart is taking a page from the modern political playbook. Under fire from well-organized opponents who have hammered the retailer with criticisms of its wages, health insurance and treatment of workers, Wal-Mart has quietly recruited former presidential advisers, including Michael K. Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's image-meister, and Leslie Dach, one of Bill Clinton's media consultants, to set up a rapid-response public relations team in Arkansas.

When small-business owners or union officials - also employing political operatives from past campaigns - criticize the company, the war room swings into action with press releases, phone calls to reporters and instant Web postings.

One target of the effort are "swing voters," or consumers who have not soured on Wal-Mart. The new approach appears to reflect a fear that Wal-Mart's critics are alienating the very consumers it needs to keep growing, especially middle-income Americans motivated not just by price, but by image.
Think class warfare is an anachronistic term mingled in red and black revolutionary fantasies? Think again. The only difference between class warfare by conservatives and by the liberal-left is that corporate America, economic neoliberals, and the right-wing are more effective in relaying their message in gooey patriarchal tones or by simply scaring the ever loving shit out of workers and consumers alike through the loss of jobs or retail price hikes.

But the good thing is that social activists and unions are having an effect on the consciousness of middle-class and upper-middle-class consumers. This campaign against Wal-Mart's abysmal wages, poor or non-existent health benefits, and anti-union activity has led to its stock plummeting since 2000 and major defeats in trying to gain access to urban markets. The bad thing, as always, is that the poor will most likely continue to shop at Wal-Mart to get the perceived "more bang for their buck." And really, who can fault them for this.

But Wal-Mart will continue to argue that they help the poor by giving them low prices, but they will continue to face a determined argument that they hurt the working poor. Today Robert Greenwald will release his documentary expose of Wal-Mart's parasitic practices entitled "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price." He should be smart and accept the challenge by a second filmmaker that has produced a "rosier" account of Wal-Mart entitled, "Why Wal-Mart Works & Why That Makes Some People Crazy" -- naturally Wal-Mart cooperated with the second film, but not Greenwald's. The left should always be open to debate our ideas (or show our media) in open forums, unafraid of the opposition's intellectual assaults. Greenwald should respond with a smirk, followed by "Anytime, anyplace."

POSTSCRIPT: I guess I shouldn't be surprised that one of Bill Clinton's media people has signed up to spread Wal-Mart propaganda -- he was an unbelievable opportunist himself. It's good to know people in modern politics really do love profit more than principle. Leslie, if I believed in God I'd pray for you since it's an act of pity more than one of concern.