Democrats have met the enemy and the enemy is…Wal-Mart.
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, delivered a 15-minute, blistering attack to warm applause from Democrats and union organizers here on Wednesday. But Mr. Biden’s main target was not Republicans in Washington, or even his prospective presidential rivals.
Or even people who want to kill us.
It was Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer.
Among Democrats, Mr. Biden is not alone. Across Iowa this week and across much of the country this month, Democratic leaders have found a new rallying cry that many of them say could prove powerful in the midterm elections and into 2008: denouncing Wal-Mart for what they say are substandard wages and health care benefits.
Six Democratic presidential contenders have appeared at rallies like the one Mr. Biden headlined, along with some Democratic candidates for Congress in some of the toughest-fought races in the country.
“My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people,” Mr. Biden said, standing on the sweltering rooftop of the State Historical Society building here. “They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That’s true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?”
I’ve been in quite a few Wal-Marts. Not one time did I see anyone holding a gun to anyone’s head to force them into working there. Not one time.
Here’s the thing Democrats may not have grasped yet. Most Wal-Mart workers aren’t working there to support a family. They’re students, senior citizens or spouses working part-time to make a little extra cash. Forcing Wal-Mart to provide health care benefits for part-time workers will end up hurting those workers, as there will be fewer jobs for them in the long run.
What really gets under the Democrats’ skin is, first, that Wal-Mart is successful without any government help. Democrats hate that. Second, Wal-Mart isn’t unionized and its employees show no interest in unionizing. As the nation’s largest private employer, Democrats and their union labor backers hate that too.
Wal-Mart won’t take all this demagoguery lying down.
Wal-Mart has begun a counterattack. In interviews on Wednesday, company executives warned that they would alert their 1.3 million American employees to the anti-Wal-Mart campaign. They also pointed to a poll the company financed that reported that Americans were generally supportive of the company.
“There is far more evidence to show that this short-sighted political strategy will backfire than that it will actually work,” said Mona Williams, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores. “We believe our associates vote, and it is our responsibility to let them know when a politician speaks out for or against our company.”
In a letter to its workers in Iowa, Wal-Mart warned of the political events, including appearances by Mr. Bayh, Mr. Biden and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
Wal-Mart “would never suggest to you how to vote,” the letter said, “but we have an obligation to tell you when politicians are saying something about your company that isn’t true. After all, you are Wal-Mart.”
I don’t know how all of this will play out. I do know that in deep blue Maryland, the legislature passed a law specifically aimed at forcing Wal-Mart to offer up health benefits, and that that law was constructed so that it would only apply to Wal-Mart. Give Democrats the power and they’ll probably try that nationwide. Because where they may be divided over the war against al Qaeda et al, the Democrats are all too united over expanding the nanny state and beating down successful Americans.