WalMartians and the Election of 2008

by francine Hardaway on January 23, 2007

Last Sunday it was raining. I woke up and watched “Meet the Press” and the other Sunday morning shows. Bill Richardson declared that he’s forming an exploratory committee. He joins Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden…on the Republican side, it’s equally crowded. McCain, Guiliani, Mitt Romney, etc.

Over and over again I hear how many people are going to run for president. Surely this is more than just two dozen huge egos; I prefer to think it means that many in public life are concerned about the direction of the country and feel they could do things differently and better.

Well, they certainly could try to do things differently, although once the successful candidate gets into office in 2009 he/she will probably find that there are more obstacles to creating change than could ever be imagined from the outside.

This country has huge, fundamental problems that are so complex that they may never be solved, and ceertainly not by one person — no matter how well-intentioned. These problems may just be endemic to a society like ours — rich, capitalist, mature,representative, democratic, and federated. We’re not a true democracy, and we’re not even a unified whole.

Look at the way certain states have jumped into the immigration issue, taking charge while waiting for the federal government to arrive at a position. The states have also jumped into health care, another biggie that has been left dormant (although not for long) by the central government. Even global warming seems to be attracting more action at the local levels than in Congress or the Office of the Presidency. We are a big ship to turn around. But can anyone really turn parts of a ship around without the rest?

Today I went to WalMart. This may look like a new paragraph without a transition, but it’s not. Follow me here for a minute. WalMart is the biggest employer in Arizona, and probably in most states. It is also a mini-economy all by itself. And I NEVER go there. I think I went once before. But in my quest for a one-stop shop for stuff to puppy-proof my house and car (floor mats,brooms, hand vacuums, Swiffers, duct tape) it was a logical choice.

WalMart was packed. Spanish music was playing on the loudspeaker, and large families cruised the aisles.Shopping was a family affair, an entertainment as well as an errand. Most appeared to be Hispanic, with only a smattering of people like me. They bought huge carts of stuff. When I looked for seat covers, they all had flame decor and low rider motifs, the themes of youth. There is a sizable young Hispanic subculture in Arizona, big enough to partially control WalMart’s merchandising strategy.

The country has many people who go to WalMart on Sunday and don’t care what Tim Russert thinks. I’m not stereotyping them, merely observing that much of the political debate goes on around and without a silent majority. They are neither pundits nor bloggers. And yet they are a large part of the population.

They are underrepresented in both social media and mainstream media. They are a large audience for Univision, and perhaps for network TV, but I wonder if even Univision has a seat at the political table.

We are crazy if we think we are ever going to evolve as a nation without including WalMartians in the debate and finding out what matters to THEM.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t speak to them from her home in Chappaqua, New York. Barack Obama, with his cosmopolitan background, may not either. I would bet a disproportionate number of their kids are in Iraq, so maybe it’s McCain or Guiliani. It would be ironic if it were a Republican. More than likely, it’s none of the two dozen announced or soon-to-be-announced exploratory committee-formers.

When a person who spends Sundays in WalMart ( really–not just for a campaign appearance) gets on the ballot, we will know what the country thinks.

How does that make you feel? If you are white, male, and educated, you may think you are at the center of things, but you’re really on the fringe. The world, in WalMart, goes on around you buying toilet paper while you speculate about politics.

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