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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]


Leading a Parade Down the Road to Nowhere
Jesse Jackson’s Cynical Opposition to Wal-Mart
[Carol Platt Liebau] 4/19/04

When Jesse Jackson showed up two weeks ago to oppose Wal-Mart’s subsequently unsuccessful bid to expand into Inglewood, it was anything but good news for the minority residents of that community – the very people whom Jackson claims to represent.

As usual, Jackson was short on facts, but long on incendiary, race-based rhetoric. “It [Wal-Mart] is a confederate economic Trojan horse,” he declared. “Confederate”? Perhaps insofar as its headquarters is in Bentonville, Arkansas – but by that definition, wouldn’t Bill Clinton, Jackson’s erstwhile spiritual advisee, be a “Confederate,” too?

With $256 billion in annual sales, 1.3 million employees and 20 million shoppers visiting its stores each day around the world, it’s quite a flight of fancy to characterize Wal-Mart as a regional store. But then again, Jackson has never been one to let the facts stand between him and a television camera – or a good sound bite, for that matter.

In contrast, Inglewood’s Mayor Roosevelt Dorn – a leader who, unlike Jackson, has actually sought and won political office – understood what having a Wal-Mart in his community could mean for its residents. He talked about the 2500 temporary construction jobs, the 1500 permanent new jobs and the tax revenues – up to $5 million – that could flow into the city’s coffers. Not a small boon for a community that is riddled with poverty, just for letting Wal-Mart take over a lot that currently sits, undeveloped and idle.

Councilman Bernard Parks, who represents the district that includes the Wal-Mart in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, also is a supporter of Wal-Mart. He told The Los Angeles Times how the Wal-Mart in his area paid to upgrade the shopping center where it was located, and how it brought as many as a million people into the area in only the first month it was open (thereby boosting other local businesses). Councilman Parks, like Mayor Dorn, is apparently a real African-American leader – someone trying to find solutions to the problems of urban America, rather than being content just talk about them.

But Wal-Mart’s opponents in Inglewood seem content to leave things just as they are – blighted, undeveloped and with a majority-minority population that is underserved or overcharged for the products they buy. Critics like Jackson may claim that Wal-Mart jobs are “worthless.” Of course, not everyone can enjoy Jackson’s own high-flying lifestyle. But in a community where 22.5% of residents live below the poverty line, unemployment runs at 8.4% and the median household income is $34,269, a job paying an average of $9.88 an hour in Southern California is nothing to scorn – especially when it may help teach otherwise unemployable youths the skills they will need to advance up the job ladder as they age.

None of that, however, is Jackson’s concern. He has the luxury of jetting into Southern California, mouthing his race-baiting platitudes, and then heading off to preen in the spotlight of another national controversy. His long-time friends and patrons who run the unions – (non-union) Wal-Mart’s most determined critics, and not incidentally, reliable contributors to the Democratic Party – fear the competition and the lower prices that Wal-Mart will bring. For Jackson, that’s reason enough to let the poor and minority residents of Inglewood forgo the opportunity to enjoy lower prices and a better-developed city.

Nothing would ever change Jackson’s mind about Wal-Mart – unless, of course, Wal-Mart suddenly followed in the cowardly footsteps of those who pay off Jackson’s favored interests in order to silence him (a highly unlikely prospect, given the principled leadership of Wal-Mart’s President and CEO, Lee Scott). But there’s reason to believe that at least some residents of Inglewood have been changing their minds about Jesse Jackson. Business owner Felix Washington told Channel 2 News, “You got deaths occurring all around you, gang violence and that kind of stuff. That’s what I’d like to see... Reverend Jesse Jackson [address] – let’s talk about that.”

But doing that would cause Jackson a problem – he’d have to admit that the $5 million in tax revenue that Wal-Mart would have brought to Inglewood could have paid for plenty of new police officers. It’s just easier to jet off in search of the next news conference.CRO

Note: Carol Platt Liebau is a shareholder of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Her husband, a professional money manager, owns the stock on behalf of his clients.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.

copyright 2004


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