(You may be surprised at my writing a political post–I’ve never done it before. Mainly because so many people do it…and they do it so much better than I. Plus, I get so emotional about the state of things sometimes that I’m unable to write coherently about them. But I’ve been feeling a little peevish lately and worried about political affairs. And yesterday, one of my favorite bloggers [and a person I respect] wrote a post that got my dander up a bit. In fact, I surprised MYSELF at my reaction. Hence, my first political post–I hope you’ll forgive and indulge me.)
Back in 2006, before news broke of his affair and $400 haircuts, I was a John Edwards supporter. But that same year, he gave a speech during his Walmart-bashing campaign that made me shake my head and groan at his cluelessness. Edwards recounted the story of how his six-year-old son Jack had chided a classmate for wearing sneakers from Walmart, telling his little friend that Walmart treats its employees badly. Edwards was bursting with pride as he said, “If a six-year-old can figure it out, America can figure it out!” Why did I groan? Well, for one thing, I found it appalling that he would encourage his son to make another child feel bad because he bought his shoes at Walmart (very likely because he couldn’t afford otherwise). If my child had said that, it would occasion a good long talk about being kind to those less fortunate. In addition, this was a prime example of why so many of my fellow blue-collar friends feel alienated from the Democratic Party.
It is a source of consternation and amazement to me that so many blue-collar people consistently vote for people that don’t have their best interests at heart. I voted for Gore in 2000, Kerry in 2004 and will vote for Obama in 2008. But so many lower-income people I know voted for Bush, not just one but two times! There are many reasons for this, among them the fact that Republicans in general have become so skilled at manipulating the minds of the less sophisticated, with emotional appeals designed to exploit that lack of sophistication. But some of the problem stems from the fact that the Democratic Party has failed to convey to us blue-collar voters that they really care about the things that keep us awake at night—how to pay for health care, how to keep a roof over our heads, how to pay for gas (if we’re lucky enough to have a running car), and how to feed and clothe our children. Instead, to show their commitment to poor people, they go around bashing Walmart, where most of us shop on a regular basis.
Now I’m no defender of Walmart. I do think they have some appalling corporate practices…but so do many, many other mega corporations. But here’s the thing: they sell things at a price that people like me can afford. A much better price, in many cases. Sure, I’d like to be able to buy that fancy organic, free-range chicken at the fancy organic food store. But I just can’t swing it. After health insurance and taxes, etc. are taken out, we bring home about $250 a week. We’re lucky if we even have chicken.
So, my fellow Democrats—don’t lecture me on how my buying choices are a “moral” decision. The truth is: I don’t have a lot of choice. Don’t bash the very people you claim to champion for shopping at the one place they can afford. I wish I could always afford to weigh the human costs against the cost to my wallet, but when you make $12.00 an hour, the cost to your wallet is a real and practical consideration. Get off your high horse in your “noble” campaign against Walmart, and walk the dusty roads with those of us that don’t have a horse.
And try to get a clue about the realities of being poor. As the son of a millworker, John Edwards did grow up poor, but I think he forgot what it was like. Back in 2006, I honestly considered offering myself as his blue-collar advisor because, Lord knows, he needed one. I have to roll my eyes when the Democratic Party wonders why blue-collar folks think they’re elitist. Wake up, Democrats. Stop bashing just Walmart (thereby pandering to the unions) and the people who shop there. Campaign for ALL corporations to pay a living wage. Campaign for health care for everyone. Do something about the huge and growing gap between the rich and the poor.
And do you know what I’d really like to see? Every lawmaker in Washington being forced to live for a year with their family of four on $12.00 an hour. Without the fancy homes and cars they already have. Maybe then we’d see a change we could believe in.