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January 31, 2008

Will Hillary's Wal-Mart Experience Trip Her Up?

Of all the arguments against Hillary Clinton's nomination, her tenure on the board of Wal-Mart may be the most ironically damaging. Democrats survive on the money that labor unions generate, and they have a passionate hatred for the nation's largest retailer, which has successfully kept unions from organizing their workers. John Edwards and Barack Obama have repeatedly demonized Wal-Mart, even though most analysts agree that its low prices and job opportunities represent a net benefit to lower-income communities.

Hillary has attempted to parry criticism of her Wal-Mart connection by claiming that she did what she could to press for positive change while on the board. ABC News has reviewed hours of stockholder meeting videotapes and finds no evidence that she ever pushed Wal-Mart to be more union friendly:

In six years as a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, between 1986 and 1992, Hillary Clinton remained silent as the world's largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers.

Clinton has been endorsed for president by more than a dozen unions, according to her campaign Web site, which omits any reference to her role at Wal-Mart in its detailed biography of her. ...

An ABC News analysis of the videotapes of at least four stockholder meetings where Clinton appeared shows she never once rose to defend the role of American labor unions.

The tapes, broadcast this morning on "Good Morning America," were provided to ABC News from the archives of Flagler Productions, a Lenexa, Kan., company hired by Wal-Mart to record its meetings and events.

Republicans will likely laugh at this line of attack. It's not one voters will see in a general election, should she win the nomination. The Right sees this obsessive focus on Wal-Mart as a strange passion indeed. People don't have to shop or work at Wal-Mart, and I don't do either, but they certainly have the right to argue against unionization if they desire, as long as they follow the law in doing so. They also can offer whatever wages they desire; they have to compete for labor in what has been for years a very tight market, and so they have to be able to beat other retailers to get the best workers.

Populists like Edwards and Obama see it differently, and so do the labor unions, which need the hundreds of millions in dues that a unionized Wal-Mart employee pool would produce. Hillary showed little impulse to help them in that effort when she had the opportunity. That might have come back to bite her in the primaries, but the unions appear to have agreed to forgive her for her failure. They continue to line up in support of Hillary.

Maybe this will signal an end to the Wal-Mart obsession of the Left. Like most obsessions, it has been irrational and damaging to the credibility of those who indulge in it. It reveals a lack of respect for free markets and even employee choice, neither of which surprise anyone considering its source. Both the Left and the Right have plenty of reasons to oppose Hillary, but this is the least of them.


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