A group of us watched the April 2007 Democratic Debate from South Carolina at a “watch party”. The watch party had organizers from the Clinton, Obama, and Edwards campaigns. There were supporters of all the candidates cheering their favorites. From the very first question on Senate Majority Leader Reid’s Iraq War position, which Hillary answered superbly, we knew how the evening would go. Hillary Clinton’s responses and her “presence” on that stage were so high quality and sharp that they pumped air into her supporters and deflated the other campaigns.
The visible flat tire Obama and Edwards supporters came back to life and started giggling only when Brian Williams had this exchange with Hillary:
Clinton: Well, it’s a mixed blessing.
Williams: How so?
Clinton: Well, because when Wal-Mart started, it brought goods into rural areas, like rural Arkansas where I was happy to live for 18 years, and gave people a chance to stretch their dollar further.
As they grew much bigger, though, they have raised serious questions about the responsibility of corporations and how they need to be a leader when it comes to providing health care and having, you know, safe working conditions and not discriminating on the basis of sex or race or any other category.
You know, this is all part, though, of how this administration and corporate America today don’t see middle class and working Americans. They are invisible. They don’t understand that if you’re a family that can’t get health care, you are really hurting.
But to the corporate elite and to the administration in the White House, you’re invisible.
If you can’t afford college, you’re invisible.
So I think we need to get both public sector and private sector leadership to start stepping up and being responsible and taking care of people.
Williams: Senator, thank you.
Again, Hillary’s response was right on target. However, we have not forgotten the crowd reaction that evening. It seemed that the opposing campaigns’ supporters thought that Hillary was vulnerable on the Wal-Mart question and that this was the moment when Big Media Guy Brian Williams would get his “gotcha”.
We have realized since then that a lot of these people, and even many Hillary supporters, do not know the details of Hillary’s history with Wal-Mart. We also realized that although many Democrats say we should speak with our enemies when it comes to foreign affairs, when it comes to domestic affairs the rule becomes “shoot them all, take no prisoners”.
We addressed in a very small way yesterday, the hostility many in the nutroots feel, and the plots and dramas they create, when talking about Hillary and her relationship to Rupert Murdoch. We pointed out that Hillary and her family have been the biggest targets of Murdoch and his many publications and media outlets. All Democrats should rejoice, we thought, when Hillary and Bill attempt to neutralize or at least soften a bit, rabid right wing haters of Democrats. But no, when Hillary impresses Republicans or conservatives, or talks with them or receives good comments from them, many unthinking Democrats go bonkers.
We are not saying that Democrats should capitulate on anything. We like fighters. Hell, we demand fighters. That’s why we like “deck ’em” Hillary. But talk? Is talking with your enemies wrong?
Hillary says “You don’t refuse to talk to bad people. I think life is filled with uncomfortable situations where you have to deal with people you might not like,” she said, pausing when the audience began to laugh. “I’m sort of an expert on that. I have consistently urged the president to talk to Iran and talk to Syria. I think it’s a sign of strength, not weakness.” As this quote demonstrates, Hillary clearly understands the underlying connection between talking to the Murdochs, and talking to the Irans. As she notes, talking “is a sign of strength”. Isn’t that what we want, a President that as Shakespeare says, gives “every man thine ear”, in other words, listens to enemies and friends?
Which brings us to Wal-Mart. Just as we want Hillary talking to Iran and the right wing nuts we detest, so too it is good to engage with corporations like Wal-Mart.
Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart in 1950. He started his store in Bentonville, Arkansas. Wal-Mart started small and grew. Even in the 1980s it was much smaller than it is today and its corporate culture was vastly different. In 1990 it became the biggest retailer in the United States. Hillary served on Wal-Mart’s board of directors for six years starting in 1986. Hillary was 39 years old — the company’s first female board member.
Just because she was young and the only woman (again) in the room did not stop Hillary.
“Bob Ortega, author of “In Sam We Trust,” a history of Wal-Mart, said Clinton used her position to urge the company to improve its gender and racial diversity. Because of Clinton’s prodding, Walton agreed to hire an outside firm to track the company’s progress in hiring women and minorities, Ortega said.
“These were things the company was not addressing and wouldn’t have, had she not pushed them to do so,” Ortega said. “She’s somebody who could definitely get things done.”
In fact, Clinton proved to be such a thorn in Walton’s side that at Wal-Mart’s annual meeting in 1987, when shareholders challenged Walton on the company’s lack of female managers, he assured them the record was improving “now that we have a strong willed young lady on the board.”
Clinton was particularly vocal on environmental matters, pressing the company to boost its sale and use of recycled materials and other “green” products.
Garry Mauro, who served with Clinton on a Wal-Mart environmental advisory committee, pointed to many successes, such as persuading the company to establish recycling centers and sell products like recycled oil and long-life light bulbs.
“Hillary had real impact — when she had an idea, things got moving,” he said. “When she resigned from the committee, it stopped having any innovative ideas and stopped being effective.”
In 2006, after a screening of An Inconvenient Truth to 800 Wal-Mart employees at the Bentonville offices, Al Gore advised the company on environmental matters. Was Al Gore wrong to talk with Wal-Mart? Is Hillary wrong to advise we talk with Iran?
All we are saying, is give talk a chance.