Thursday, December 16, 2004

Who Can Afford to "Buy Blue"?

Democrats just came up with a new cyber-gimmick --
Buy Blue wants you to stop buying "products and services from companies which heavily donate to conservatives" and recommends the "blue-contributors'" wares instead (so does Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, who asks you to "shop your politics" at Ruy Teixeira's The Emerging Democratic Majority blog).

Take a look at's "Blue Christmas" campaign list of "red" and "blue" companies, and you'll see that BuyBlue Democrats play right into the hands of Republicans, who have been trading on an idea that the Democratic Party is the party of the coastal "liberal elite" and misrepresenting themselves as the party of mythical "Middle America." Most stores frequented by lower-income workers (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, JC Penney, Sears, Target, and so on) are on the Republican side, and many of the shops on the Democratic side (Bed Bath & Beyond, Sharper Image, J.Crew, Calvin Klein, Starbucks, etc.) are the pricier sort that appeal to brand-conscious clienteles who can shop for images and styles rather than only the biggest bargains.

The most damning comparison is at the top of the "Blue Christmas" campaign's "Clothing" section: Dollar General in the "red" column and Nordstrom in the "blue" one.

Really, who can afford to "buy blue"?

Besides, consumer boycotts of goods that are not organized in solidarity with workers who make or sell them, with such concrete goals as organizing unions, winning first contracts, and striking for better wages and conditions, seldom work. The only contrast that makes working-class sense in the "Blue Christmas" campaign, in terms of relative conditions of workers, is militantly anti-union Wal-Mart vs. partly unionized Costco: "According to Wal-Mart, its 1.2 million U.S. employees earn an average of $9.99 an hour, less than two thirds of Costco's average. Only 42 percent of Wal-Mart's workers have health care coverage through the company, compared with more than 83 percent at Costco" (Nina Shapiro, "Company for the People," Seattle Weekly, December 15-21, 2004). The difference is clear, but many workers still end up having to shop at Wal-Mart, due to geography as well as prices: "Costco charges a membership fee to shop there ($45 a year); Wal-Mart doesn't. Costco, fittingly clustered largely along the blue-state coasts, caters to an affluent urbanite crowd. Wal-Mart, a red-state company in every way, canvases small towns and rural areas across the heartland of America, attracting shoppers who are often literally desperate for low prices. Even Sam's Club, which like Costco, charges an annual membership fee ($35), sticks close to Wal-Mart's geographic base" (Shapiro, December 15-21, 2004). Liza Featherstone tells us that even union men and women patronize Wal-Mart:
Most people agree that any serious approach to forcing Wal-Mart to the bargaining table must eventually threaten the company's profits. Labor organizers used to think they could do this by asking the public not to shop at Wal-Mart, but now most concede that's impossible, given the retailer's low prices. Their own members shop at Wal-Mart, making at least 30 percent of union credit-card purchases at the retail giant. Even activists thinking seriously about how to oppose the retailer keep finding themselves in its parking lots. "I love that damn store," says [Wade] Rathke [founder and chief organizer of ACORN and Service Employees International Union Local 100, in New Orleans], who recalls being a loyal customer when he lived in Arkansas and needed the discounts. "They had me. I wasn't making 2 cents to put together." Now he lives in New Orleans, and admits, "Damned if I don't go down to Sam's for a new tire! They do have something that works. You can't just convince people they're evil." Indeed, many rural and working-class women view Wal-Mart as an ally, an oasis of low prices in an unfriendly world. In her chart-topping paean to country pride, "Redneck Woman," Gretchen Wilson sums it up irresistibly: "Victoria's Secret, well their stuff's real nice/But I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price/And still look sexy, just as sexy as those models on TV/No, I don't need no designer tag to make my man want me." (emphasis added, "Will Labor Take the Wal-Mart Challenge?" The Nation, June 28, 2004)
Wal-Mart workers need to be organized, and only in the context of solidarity with Wal-Mart workers fighting to organizing their union can boycotting Wal-Mart make a difference.

As for the matter of campaign contributions, many contributors are bipartisan. In October, preliminary Center for Responsive Politics results revealed that "50,000 contributions who" had "given to President Bush or the Republicans" had "given $10,697,198 in large contributions to Kerry" and that "[e]ven among these 700 [Republicans who contributed money to Nader/Camejo] the Democrats received more money than Nader/Camejo -- $111,700 to $146,000" (Kevin Zeese and Virginia Rodino, "Kerry Receives 100 Times More in Contributions from GOP Donors than Nader," October 14, 2004).

More importantly, the 2004 elections were the most expensive elections in the history of the United States. The Center for Responsive politics estimated that "a record $3.9 billion" was spent on presidential and congressional races, "a 30 percent increase over the $3 billion spent on federal elections four years ago" ("04 Elections Expected to Cost Nearly $4 Billion: Presidential Race to Top $1.2 Billion," October 21, 2004). John Kerry, who received $322,574,967, made out almost as well as George W. Bush, who raked in $366,554,535 (, "2004 Presidential Election"). Rather than shopping politics or buying blue, leftists ought to be making a stink about the brazenly plutocratic politics of One Dollar One Vote.

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