Dems Fume: Obama at Walmart — What Were They Thinking?

Just minutes after President Obama wrapped up his speech on solar energy Friday at a Walmart in Mountain View, Democratic National Committee member Chris Stampolis looked around at the racks of American flag-themed bikinis and $5.44 T-shirts made in China — and just sighed.

“We certainly obviously support the president — we’re thrilled that he’s in the White House,” he said. “But we’re quite concerned that the message that you send when you come to Walmart — especially in the Bay Area — is not a really consistent message with the working people and Democrats within this community.

“So we’re certainly also trying to send a message to the White House and to the president that additional communication with party activists helps in the long run, in terms of helping to build the base and communication,” Stampolis said.

Ouch. No communication from the White House? No heads-up to Democrats in the ATM of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley?

“Unfortunately, choosing this location has created a bit of distrust between the leaders of organized labor here in the Bay Area and the Democratic Party,” Stampolis said. “So those of us who serve as national members on the DNC level want to ensure we’re also standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in labor.”

Walmart US CEO Bob Simon told the gathering that it was believed to be the first time that a sitting president had ever visited a Walmart. And certainly the crowds of young workers at the store appeared jazzed and more than proud to have POTUS on the grounds.

But Stampolis’ words underscored what Democrats said was a lot of head-shaking over Obama’s decision to announce a policy initiative at a chain that the United Food and Commercial Workers and other unions have reviled for its low wages and benefits and alleged discrimination against female employees.

Democratic concerns about labor’s anger may have explained the absence of House members and legislative leaders at the kind of public presidential event where they usually jockey to be recognized.

Some party activists, including Stampolis, said that had the White House consulted with local Democrats, they would have warned what the reaction would be.

Chris Stampolis

Chris Stampolis

As it was, Stampolis said, “I found out on Monday. … I hear Walmart, and I think, ‘OK, what’s he going to speak about? Wages or something?’ I even called DNC staff.

“An hour and a half later they called back and said, ‘No, he’s going to give them an award on environmental sustainability.’ ”

An alarmed Stampolis sent a note to the DNC Western listserve to express his concerns.

“It’s not just about the hourly wages paid to the workers, but it’s about the actual facility,” he said. “Walmart has a long history of building nonunion.”

He also pointed out that labor activists have blasted Walmart for being on the receiving end of a flow of goods made overseas by workers making “slave wages.”

carla-marinucci-200“So why, in this particular case, would the president choose this location?” Stampolis asked. “He could have gone down to Apple Computer — there’s a multimillion labor agreement there, and wonderful environmental sustainability.

“There’s also the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara,” Stampolis said, noting that much of its energy usage will be green-generated. He called it “a perfect facility to host something like this.”

“So we actually were a little … perplexed as to what the choice point was regarding this particular facility,” Stampolis said.

“Perplexed” is putting it nicely, it seems.

Carla Marinucci
SF Gate


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    Remember that Obama doesn’t have to care about the Dem party. He used to have to pretend that he cared. He continues to sort-of-pretend and he actually does semi-sort-of care about some traditional Dem agendas, but that’s a strictly elective choice on his part. He figures that he’ll be just fine if the Goppies take over Congress completely in 2014.

  2. GaryH says

    Pres. Obama was thinking of sending a signal to the plutocrats who support him. And the message was clear. The Democratic Party wants their campaign contributions. – Gary

  3. pancheetah says

    This is the President who is trying to raise the min wage to $10.10 against determined and well funded interests and the President who stepped in to prevent the loss of 100s of thousands of jobs in the auto industry at a critical time. Fairness requires that I keep in mind what has been done and there’s a strategic reason behind White House actions.
    aside… President Obama juxtaposed next to a rack of Walmart tops for $14.44 wasn’t my fave pic of him.

  4. PeonInChief says

    I wonder whether anyone has offset the savings of solar panels with two costs: first the cost to the State for subsidies to the low-income workers and second, the carbon cost when WalMart workers have to travel long distances to work in Mountain View. There’s no way that WalMart workers can afford to live anywhere near Mountain View. Or perhaps the workers are just living in trailers in the parking lot?

  5. george says

    Ah, a Christie moment. Maybe it’s an early sign of dementia. That’s it, he forgot where he was. Some staffer scheduled it thinking Mountain View was somewhere in the Confederacy or Utah. That’s why we have term limits.

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