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Ed Driscoll

Wal-Mart’s Going ‘Back to Basics’…Any Minute Now

April 12th, 2011 - 7:55 am

On the PJM homepage, Richard Pollock has a cautionary tale of a major business placing political correctness over profit, with — shocker! — disastrous results back in the real world:

After suffering seven straight quarters of losses, today the merchandise giant Wal-Mart will announce that it is “going back to basics,” ending its era of high-end organic foods, going “green,” and the remainder of its appeal to the upscale market. Next month the company will launch an “It’s Back” campaign to woo the millions of customers who have fled the store. They will be bringing back “heritage” products, like inexpensive jeans and sweatpants.

Few may recognize it as such, but this episode should be seen as a cautionary tale about “progressives” and social engineering experiments on low-income Americans. This morning’s Wall Street Journal article is blunt:

That strategy failed, and the Bentonville, Ark., retail giant now is pursuing a back-to-basics strategy to reverse the company’s fortunes.

The failure, in large part, can be pinned to Leslie Dach: a well-known progressive and former senior aide to Vice President Al Gore. In July 2006, Dach was installed as the public relations chief for Wal-Mart. He drafted a number of other progressives into the company, seeking to change the company’s way of doing business: its culture, its politics, and most importantly its products.

Out went drab, inexpensive merchandise so dear to low-income Americans. In came upscale organic foods, “green” products, trendy jeans, and political correctness. In other words, Dach sought to expose poor working Americans to the “good life” of the wealthy, environmentally conscious Prius driver.

Dach’s failure should be a cautionary tale for President Obama: last week he scolded a blue collar man in Pennsylvania for driving an SUV, and he has previously admonished Americans to get out of their gas-guzzlers and into electric cars. Dach’s failure should also put Michelle Obama on notice; she has been pushing her White House organic vegetable garden as a model for working Americans.

Like other real-world experiments, the Wal-Mart story exposes the failure of progressivism in the marketplace, as the Dach strategy has been a fiasco: the merchandising turned off low-income (and largely Democratic-leaning) customers. Says former Wal-Mart executive Jimmy Wright:

The basic Wal-Mart customer didn’t leave Wal-Mart. What happened is that Wal-Mart left the customer.

Meanwhile, the old regime is still playing out the string, I guess:

If you were scrolling through your twitter feed this morning and happened to click through a link to Matt Ygelsias’ blog, your ears were probably treated to an intrusive audio ad asking you to enter a drawing for a $1000 Wal-Mart gift card.

Now I have no problem with Wal-Mart advertising on Yglesias’ blog, or giving millions of dollars to Yglesias’ employer, the Center for American Progress, or with Wal Mart partnering with CAP to lobby for a health insurance mandate. The owners of firms have every right to exercises their First Amendment rights “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But then again I don’t work for an organization that believes the Koch brothers are the greatest threat to western civilization as we know it.

When Orwell dreamed-up the Two Minute Hate, he wasn’t kidding, was he? But if Wal-Mart is really having a Great Relearning of its own, how long before they’re back to being hated by the left, despite having a former Gore aide in its upper management for several years?

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