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Chances are that before midnight tonight, House Republicans will shut down the government. Let the novena of needless cable speculation begin:  How will it all end? Who will get the blame?

In this case, the speculation is especially needless because we know how it will end. We've seen this movie before.  Well, some of us have.  Apparently, the Tea Party wing of the GOP missed that epic, "The Winter of '95," when the wind chill factor greeting the last Republican shutdown was fifty degrees below zero on the Gallup scale. Republicans retreated like Napoleon out of Russia, and they will again.  Here's why:

A Bit of History

Republicans rode into 1995 on the zephyr of a historic election victory. The Health Insurance Industry's front-family, Harry and Louise, had strangled Bill Clinton's Health Care Reform plan in its crib -- it never even made it out of committee, and voters punished the Democrats for it.

The GOP now held majorities in both House and Senate. Clinton himself was a wounded gazelle. Newt Gingrich and his pride of 73 zealous, hungry House Republican freshmen circled, and crouched.

Then, when Clinton refused to meet their demands for budget cuts, they sprang for the kill: they shut down the government, confident that the spineless "Slick Willie" would cave in to their demands, and that Americans would embrace their bold takedown.

But a funny thing happened on the way to hubris: no one caved, and few embraced. Clinton calmly declared that he was willing to compromise, but that he wouldn't be extorted into accepting drastic cuts in education, Medicare and other important programs.

Americans could only watch in dismay as the "non-essential" services of the U.S. government ended. Families who had planned a trip to a national park cancelled it. Businessmen who needed their passports renewed were grounded. Some people who needed a pension or public assistance check stared at their empty mailboxes, and so on.

Unexpectedly, Republicans found that the sheer size of the federal government was against them. Three hundred thousand federal workers were furloughed and another 480,000 "essential" workers were forced to work without pay. This army of the suddenly unemployed was spread throughout every city and state in the country.

These 3/4 of a million people, it turned out, had friends, neighbors and family members who cared about them. Even people who didn't know any federal employees were themselves emerging from a steep recession and could feel the pain of people who lost their jobs because government leaders refused to be adults and compromise.

As the shutdown began, polls showed that, unsurprisingly, voters blamed the party that had refused to fund, and thus shut down the government, not the guy who begged them not to shut it down, and then beseeched them to open it up (49%-26%).

Gingrich's own disapproval rating leapt like a non-wounded gazelle, by 20 points. Then Bob Dole and other moderates in the Senate abandoned the sinking ship of the shutdown and voted to open the government. Privately, Gingrich admitted to Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, "We've made a mistake. Our strategy isn't working."

In the end, without concessions from Clinton, and despite the fury of the freshmen zealots, House moderates recanted and put the "Open" sign back in the door.

Later that year, the once-wounded gazelle won re-election by a landslide and then, to furious applause, demanded in his State of the Union speech that Republicans "Never, ever shut the federal government down again."

So, Why? Here's Where It Gets Interesting

So, given this discouraging history, why are House Republicans tilting their lances at the same windmill that so soundly thrashed them eighteen years ago?

The Tea Party members who pushed for the shutdown -- about a third of the Republican caucus -- aren't worried about voter backlash. They tend to come from districts in the deep woods of the Deep South that are safe for far-right Republicans.

But many of their Republican colleagues were swept into office from competitive or even Democratic-leaning districts by the voter anger of 2010. They tend moderate, and they have reason to fear voter backlash.

As one measure of their precarious position, 27 House Republicans come from Districts where Obama carried 48% or more of the vote in 2012.  In thirteen of their districts, Obama carried more than 50% of the vote.

Why would these vulnerable Rebublicans join this Children's Crusade against a fait accompli?  Eight words: Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action, Club for Growth.  These are the richer than God interest groups ready to rain down brimstone on Republicans who fail to toe their line.  Their four-word mantra strikes terror in the heart of every House Republican: "WE WILL PRIMARY YOU!"  That is, they will run a more conservative candidate against you in a Republican primary election, where conservative voters are disproportionately represented.

Of course, kow-towing to extremism makes these vulnerable Republicans even more vulnerable in general elections, where they have to carry moderate Republicans and some independents to win.  Here, they're an extremist running against a moderate in a moderate district.

They are, in short, damned if they do and damned if they don't.  In this round, Big Money seems to have convinced Republicans that getting primaried next spring is the clear and present danger.

That sense will last until "Winter of '95 II: Revenge of the Tea Party" debuts later today, and all of the above history plays out again.  At that point, the GOP may recall Santayana: "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."

Discuss

House Republicans reconvened this week, and promptly crushed a Dream.  The Senate has already passed an immigration reform bill that would offer a path to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants.  And House Speaker John Boehner had promised to take up the issue after the August recess, calling reform "a big goal of mine."

But alas, the Steve King wing of Boehner's party has prevailed.  King is the House Republican who recently described undocumented children as having "calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."  Thanks to King and his ilk, immigration reform will now be deferred indefinitely, even though it could probably pass in the House today, with the votes of Democrats and moderate Republicans.

And "[w]hat happens to a dream deferred?" Does it "just sag like a heavy load? Or does it explode?"  "Families in our communities are being ripped apart by deportations, and the system is in chaos," says Tony Stieritz, Director of Social Action for the Cincinnati Archdiocese.  "A vote for delay is a vote for crisis and disorder in the current system."  "The more they delay, the worse it will be for them," adds Eliseo Medina, leader of reform efforts for the Service Employees International Union.

At moments like this, we must forgive Republican leaders for feeling like the hapless Dr. Frankenstein as he moaned, "I started from my sleep with horror when I beheld the miserable monster whom I had created."  The Monster in this case is the Politics of Resentment, fomented so assiduously over so many years by the Republican establishment, against the undocumented, the gay, the sexually active, on behalf of the devout, the old, and in general, the white.

The problem is that those groups getting hated on are now ascendant in the electorate, while those groups loving the hatred are descendant.  And as those ascendant groups -- let's call them the villagers -- amass at the polls to defend themselves, defeating Republicans by popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, the cool Republican tacticians who spawned the Monster can only watch in dismay as their uncontrollable creation continues to run amok. Because now, the Monster has a mind of its own, autopiloted by its own pundits, Tea Party organizers and Congressmen, its own media outlets -- those who have made their careers and fortunes being monstrous, and aren't about to give it up.

Let's begin with the havoc the Monster is wreaking on immigration reform, and ponder the following harsh realities:

--Barack Obama claimed 71% of the Hispanic* vote in 2012. Overall, he took more than 83% of votes of people of color, who increased from 1/6 to 1/4 of the voting population between 1996 and 2012.  Currently, Hispanics account for half of all U.S. population growth.    

--Meanwhile, the base to which the Monster races is shrinking. While the Hispanic population increased by 43% over the last decade, the white population increased by one percent.  This means of course that the percentage of white voters is actually shrinking -- by 2% just between '08 and '12. Minority births now outnumber white births, and by about 2040, whites will be a minority of the U.S. population.

--Currently, nearly 1 in 5 Congressional districts have at least a 25% Latino population.

--While it's true that immigration from Mexico has slowed to a trickle, it's also true that, even before the spigot closed, 62% of U.S. Latino population growth came from births, not immigration. Send in the Latinos? Don't bother, they're here.

And They're Not Just Democrats, They're Liberals!

Of course, if wishes were horses, Republicans would just ride away from this mess, and heaven knows they're trying. Two days after the election debacle of 2012, Charles Krauthammer wistfully opined that Latinos "should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family oriented and socially conservative -- on abortion, for example."  

Unfortunately, the alchemy of wishes fails here, and Krauthammer's fond hope is no getaway horse. Exit polls from last November found that Latino voters were "not only more liberal than Republicans, they're sometimes more liberal than Democrats."Socially conservative?  Sixty six percent said abortion should be legal; 59% said yes to same-sex marriage.

And on economic issues, Latinos are downright populist: fifty five percent have a negative view of capitalism! They want more spending on schools, and universal, public-run health care; they want government to help run the economy and are wide open to raising taxes on those who can afford it.   A "natural Republican constituency," they're not.

But luckily for the GOP, they don't have to erase their Hispanic voting deficit, they just have to chip away at it to remain competitive.  And if the party were serious about chipping away at Obama's margin with these voters, it might well court more-affluent Hispanics, who've shown some willingness (more than blacks, not as much as whites) to go Red, along with those first-generation immigrants who are conservative on abortion.

The Monster Keeps on Monstering

But instead of the outstretched hand, time and again, Latinos get "the murderous mark of the fiend's grasp" -- insult and injury heaped upon the very voters Republicans must court to remain viable.  Even as Latinos tell pollsters that immigration is "personally important" to them and that most of them "personally know" an undocumented immigrant, the Monster continues his ravaging ways:

--In June, 220 of the 234 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to restart deporting 800,000 DREAM Act eligible young people, the same people President Obama's 2012 order would protect from deportation -- those who were brought here as children, and have since led law-abiding lives. But such injuries aren’t enough, apparently, and so Republican House members have added a few insults:

--"The U.S. should choose only the best immigrants, the way one chooses the pick of the litter. You want a good bird dog? You get the pick of the litter and you got yourself a pretty good bird dog."  (Steve King, R-IA, National Review, 4/16/13)

--"Illegal aliens are criminals and we need to treat them as such." (Paul Broun, R-GA, Huffington Post, 3/22/13)

--"We know Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels. We know that people are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanics when they are radical Islamists...Finally the Israeli people said this is enough. They built a wall to prevent...the domestic violence from people that want to destroy them...We need to do that as well."  (Louie Gohmert, R-TX, C-Span and Dallas Observer, 4/17/13)

--"Mr. President, build up this wall! The things that made America great are Americans like you that work and understand that it's a sacrifice. You don't get to come over here and be takers."  (Randy Weber, R-TX, Houston Chronicle, 6/20/13)

--"My father had a ranch. We used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by hand." (Don Young, R-AK, KRBD, 3/28/13)

--"The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white voters -- the white voters who didn't vote in the last election, and there are millions of them."  (Phyllis Schlafly, "The Dove" radio, 5/24/13)      

--"What are the Republicans [moderates] doing?  Going back on their word, dishonoring their platform and enraging their loyal [white] supporters, who gave Mitt 90% of his votes, to pander to a segment of the electorate that gave Mitt less than 5% of his total votes?  Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad." (Pat Buchanan, American Conservative, 6/14/13)                  

At the end of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the Monster is sent off to the Arctic to practice his social skills. And one day, the Republican Monster will also be asked to pack some warm clothes for a long trip. But for now, "IT'S ALIVE!"

*The terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are only partially overlapping concepts. This essay uses the nomenclature of the original source: when a poll uses the term "Latino," that name is used here, and the same is true for "Hispanic."

In our next installment, we'll learn how the Monster is ravaging Republican prospects among the young, the secular, the female and the college educated.

Discuss

This week, more than a third of House Republicans urged Speaker John Boehner to let them shut down the government. A shutdown, they reason, would be the perfect crowbar to force the President and Senate Democratic majority to accept the defunding, and thus the death of, Obamacare.

Well, "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it," as Santayana warned us. And the Tea Party wing of the GOP seems to have forgotten the winter of '95, when the wind chill factor that greeted the last Republican shutdown was fifty degrees below zero on the Gallup scale.

Continue Reading

On Monday of this week, I published a diary on Daily Kos about Walmart's new ad campaign. Then, Kory Lundberg, a member of Walmart's "communications team" responded with a comment. Because it's unusual for a corporation to respond to a blogger, I couldn't resist this opportunity for dialog. So here's my response:

Dear Kory,

Thanks for your comment, and for the opportunity to dialog with Walmart. Forgive me for presuming this, but for some reason I'm picturing you as a young man, which has me lapsing into the role of my day job, where I'm lucky enough to be a college professor.

But let me be clear: I'm not trying to pull rank. If I say some things a college professor might say, this is not to imply that ours is not a dialog among equals, because every dialog is a dialog among equals, including those between professor and student. As Paolo Freire says, "While to say the true word is a privilege, saying the true word is not the privilege of just one man [or woman] but of all men [and women]."

In that spirit, let me offer a couple of suggestions about argumentation:

1. We want to avoid ad hominem arguments. These are attacks directed against our debate opponent's character, instead of against his or her arguments. For example, when you describe me as having an "agenda" that I should be "honest about"  and as "disingenuous," you are saying that I am a guileful fellow who knowingly says things that are untrue in order to serve his hidden motives -- in short, a deliberate liar. (BTW, no offense taken -- I've been called worse. But I must confess to being baffled: what is my hidden agenda?)

We avoid ad hominems for two reasons:

a) They're mean, and thus they bring heat, not light to a dialog. We're in a search for the truth here; that is important work, and attacking one another personally will not get us there.

b) They're logically fallacious. Asserting (often without evidence) that our opponent is a scalawag does not address his arguments, which may be perfectly valid even if he is a scalawag.

2. Another tactic we may want to avoid is the "straw man." It's sometimes tempting to attack a weak argument that our opponent didn't make (the straw man) rather than attacking the stronger argument that our opponent did make.

 For example, you say, quite rightly, that "just because Mr. Exoo doesn't like what the [former] president [Clinton] says doesn't mean he didn't say it."  The problem is, I never alleged that Bill Clinton didn't say it -- in fact, quite the opposite: I offered an explanation of why the former president might have said what he did, i.e., the Clintons' longstanding financial and personal relationship with Walmart, and I offered statistical evidence that what he said is incorrect.

Likewise, when you say that "when he talks about the Walmart customer, he provides nothing but his opinion."  In fact, the link we provide in that section takes you to Advertising Age's demographic profile of the Walmart customer, as evidence of our assertion that the plurality of them are poor, Southern and elderly -- and that such customers were hidden from view in WM's campaign -- treated as the poor relations asked to hide in the back room when company comes.

Finally, you say that providing context to a Walmart assertion that is only half the story is "a little bit silly," and is no evidence of falsity. In reply, let me leave you with a comment from Aldous Huxley, in which he has captured much of the strategy of a public relations campaign such as "The Real Walmart": "The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater...is silence about truth."

In the passage you found silly, we made the point that a half-truth -- "quarterly bonuses!" -- is being used to mask a more important truth: Walmart is a company whose six heirs control as much wealth as forty percent of the American population -- that's 125.56 million people; and yet many of its employees must get food stamps to feed their families.

And since you've given me this wonderful opportunity for dialog, I'm going to seize the chance to ask you, Kory: Is that a fact that shocks the conscience?

Fides et Veritas (the motto of my college, it means "Faith and Truth")

Calvin Fred Exoo

Discuss

Walmart is good: good for its employees, its customers, its suppliers, and even for the environment, says the company's new ad campaign and website, dubbed "The Real Walmart" as a retort to the company's critics.

But alas, the facts say otherwise. On inspection, each of the major claims in the campaign turns out to be "The Fake Walmart."  Let's examine each of these glowing pronouncements, along with the murky reality that lies behind it.


1. The Claim:  "Opportunity: That's the Real Walmart!" exults one of the ads. "Over 75 percent of store management started as hourly associates."

The Reality:  An internal Walmart document just leaked to the press this week reveals that:

  • Hourly "associates" at Walmart start at or near the minimum wage. Performance-based pay increases can result in "promotions" in pay and title.  But even the very highest level of performance will net you an annual raise of just $.60 per hour, capped for each job title. Last year, only 18 percent of hourly workers received any pay raise at all.  If an employee is so industrious as to rise to the management level of, say, "check out supervisor," her pay will be $1.70 more than that of the lowest paid employee.
  • And getting from the hourly wage ghetto to a salaried position is, as the Magic 8 Ball likes to say, "Not likely."  In a typical Walmart store, there may be 200 employees and only a handful of salaried managers. Getting one of those few positions is "more like a lottery than a reliable path."


2. The Claim:  "When our store does well, I earn quarterly bonuses!"

The Reality: Those bonuses of $100 to $300, intended to make employees work harder, don't make for a living wage.  If Walmart really wanted to improve workers' lives, it would allow more of them to work full time, and thus have access to health insurance and other benefits. Instead, the company keeps a tight lid on full-time work, thus denying benefits to about 70 percent of its store employees.

3. The Claim: "Walmart helps customers save on prescription drugs!"

The Reality: But at what cost to those same customers as taxpayers?  Walmart's wages and benefits are so low that many of its workers have to rely on Medicaid and other social services to support their families, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million annually per store in the state of Wisconsin, where these costs were calculated. That's a taxpayer tab of at least $67.5 million each year for the state of Wisconsin alone.

4. The Claim:  "President Clinton praised which company for putting solar panels on its stores?" asks a cheerful young spokesmodel of passersby in another ad. They are surprised to learn that it's Walmart.

The Reality:  The passerby's initial assumption -- that it wouldn't be Walmart -- is well taken. In fact, despite announcing in 2005 that the company would move to having 100 percent of its power supplied by renewable sources, Walmart today receives only four percent of its energy from solar and wind power.

Why would Bill Clinton say such a thing?  Call me cynical, but it may have something to do with the fact that Walmart has been a major supporter of the Clintons since Bill's days as governor of Arkansas.  In fact, Hillary was a member of Walmart's Board of Directors for the six years leading up to her husband's first presidential campaign in 1992. By 1993, tax returns showed the Clintons owned more than $100,000 worth of Walmart stock. In 2008, the company made substantial contributions to Hillary's presidential campaign, while Bill has maintained a close personal relationship with Walmart CEO H. Lee Scott.  If Hillary runs in 2016, it will be in the post-Citizens United era of the SuperPac. These are made by billionaire contributors, and there are few billionaires as billiony as the scions of Walmart -- the six Walton heirs together own as much wealth as 40 percent of the U.S. population.  The candidate who has them has the atom bomb of the SuperPac wars.

5. The Claim: "Meet real Walmart shoppers!"  Here we meet a businessman, a teacher, a carpenter, a mechanical engineer, a firefighter and an accountant, all of them redolent with middle class status, who proudly shop at Walmart. "Living better," the tag line says, "that's the real Walmart."

The Reality:  Walmart's customers are disproportionately poor, Southern and elderly.  The fact that none of these demo's made it into Walmart's ad about "Our Customers" means not only that Walmart is a fibber, but also that Walmart is a disser of its own "real" customers.

6. The Claim:  "We work directly with manufacturers, eliminating costly markups."

The Reality: If by "work with," the ad means "dictate to," then this claim is accurate.  But again, as Charles Fishman, the business reporter who wrote The Walmart Effect asks, what is "the high cost of these low prices?" Walmart's market power is such that many of its suppliers face a stark choice:  take dictation from Walmart, or lose half or more of their business. "To survive in the face of [Walmart's] pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas."

Just ask Steve Dobbins, CEO of 75-year old Carolina Mills, a company that supplies thread and yarn to textile manufacturers -- half of whom supply Walmart. His company grew steadily until 2000. Then his customers, with Walmart's gun to their heads -- began a hemhorrage of offshoring in order to find the dirt cheap labor necessary to meet Walmart's low price demands. Carolina Mills shrank from 17 factories to 7 within three years. The way Walmart "works with" its suppliers has been disastrous for American workers.

In the end, what can we learn from "The Real Walmart"?

When large corporations are criticized, they squirt PR like a cuttlefish. After all, it's a lot cheaper to fix the image than to fix the problem. This summer, reports have emerged showing that Walmart's pay and promotion policies are miserly, and that as a result, taxpayers get stuck with a big tab. If "greenwashing" is hiding your environmental sins with PR, and red is the color of labor, "The Real Walmart" has, in response to its critics, given us "redwashing."
Discuss
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