Attention, Wal-Mart Voters

Lost Jobs and Military Funerals Haunt Bush in the Heartland

Judy—whose company will probably have to shut down next year—moves the critique to the terrain of family values: "The moms that used to have a factory job with me and who go home at the end of eight hours and 10 hours and take care of their children and have decent day care, now they're working two jobs at Wal-Mart with no health benefits."

Eric takes this all home to politics: "At some point the Republican Party has to realize that, yeah, they need the money today to get elected"—the big, multinational, corporate money—"but it's not the General Electrics or all these large corporations that are putting them in office. It's the people who work for these corporations."

Perhaps one of the reasons these successful people are entertaining the thought of supporting Democrats is that they feel like they're abandoning a sinking ship—a party that stakes its future on unsustainability, on the "efficiency" of shutting down every factory in sight because it makes for a better-looking quarterly balance sheet.

Illustration: David O'Keefe

Don notes that an employee at his plant, non-union, starts at $16 an hour and makes as much as $100,000 a year: "sends his kids to private school, he drives a nice car—does that sound like a Democrat to you? . . . Our people, in the past, didn't want government interfering with their life. . . . What happens to these people is that they find out they can't become a Wal-Mart associate . . . at $7.50 an hour without completely undermining their lives."

Here's a riddle: What do shuttered factories manufacture? Democrats. Or at least they might, if the national Democratic Party had the balls to do what needs to be done.

Don again: "If Eric and his family decided to shut this place down, he's not going to end up on a food line. Neither am I." It makes them mad all the same. Mad enough to do something about it. Downsized factory workers and their well-off former bosses: What a wonderful coalition it would be.

Meanwhile, the rock-headed jingoes at the motorcycle track can afford to focus their fears on weapons of mass destruction because they don't have to worry about job destruction. They're truck drivers. They're the ones shipping product to the Wal-Marts.

It all comes together, as a Marxist might say, at the point of production. The last stop of my visit is the shop floor, where a young man Eric's age tells me about the place where he used to work, and his father before him, and his grandfather before him: a paper plant that shut down a few years back. But he's no protectionist either: "I have no problem with a company that uses overseas goods—if they're going to return some of that investment to the American worker, which can in turn spend that here."

He has a particular company in mind. The one that may end up, if Dial Machine has to close, as the next stop down the line.

"I won't go to Wal-Mart. My problem is that the company made $7 billion in profits. And yet they pay their workers substandard wages." Health co-payments are so expensive, he notes, that less than half sign up for the "benefit." This worker fears Wal-Mart more than he fears weapons of mass destruction. Because he knows which one is more likely to end up in his future. Americans who fear Wal-Mart more than apparitional WMDs (and apparitional dreadlocked drug dealers) are proliferating every day—and must be made to proliferate more, for the sake of our nation. This is the Democratic Party's hope: convincing Red America they can provide an economy that's safe for the whole family.

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