I'm a big fan of Mike Rowe, ever since his "Dirty Jobs" days. That was my default TV show, before my present inexplicable fascination with home-remodeling programs began. Every episode you'd see Mike throw himself into some unbelievably nasty line of work, cracking jokes as he was bathed in everything from raw sewage to bird droppings. There will never be a show with more feces per minute of running time.
We might say that "Dirty Jobs" was cut from the same cloth as home-remodeling shows, and all the other reality programming that covers blue-collar America. I like to think their popularity stems from the satisfaction of watching hard work earn its just rewards, rather than the mild curiosity of Eloi wondering what the Morlocks are up to these days.
These days, Rowe is a crusader for the skilled trades. Among his priorities is jump-starting the American manufacturing sector. To that end, he was supportive of Wal-Mart's announcement that it would pump $250 billion into U.S. manufacturers. Why, that's almost big enough to be government money!
Wal-Mart wanted to announce their $250 billion initiative in an advertisement - you know, kind of like how the Administration makes ads touting ObamaCare, except Wal-Mart spent its own money. As luck would have it, Mike Rowe makes a living by providing his face and voice for commercials. Capitalism ensued. The result:
Impressive, no? Well, no, not according to the Left and some of their media pets. Wal-Mart, you see, is pure concentrated evil, like the chunk of David Warner left over at the end of "Time Bandits," which made the kid's parents explode when they touched it. Apparently the company was supposed to fork over its two hundred and fifty billion clams in dignified silence - ideally by giving it to Barack Obama, so he could divide it between various deserving sinkholes, after skimming $200 billion off the top for overhead.
Rowe took so much heat for narrating this ad that he wrote a long Facebook post to rebut the criticism, much of which was profoundly dishonest. He was portrayed as a representative of Wal-Mart, with the full burden of their alleged Sins Against the Little Guy piled upon his shoulders, even though he holds no official capacity with the corporation - he just narrated their ad. One blogger even christened him a "shill for the oppressors."
Perhaps most problematic was a report from CBS News that went so far as doctoring a quote from Rowe to make him look bad (although, in truth, a grown-up would find nothing objectionable about the truncated part of the quote.) Here's how Rowe addresses the "little gem" from CBS:
This piece comes from CBS News. Check out the photo. It’s a rare image of me in a suit a tie, and conveys all the sincerity of an ambitious vacuum cleaner salesman at the annual Hoover convention. Nice. Below the photo, the writer - Aimee Picchi - attributes the following question to me. “Who gives a crap about your feelings toward Walmart?” Unfortunately, Aimee leaves out the most important part, which for the record was this: “For that matter, who gives a crap about MY feelings? Isn’t the business of making things in America an initiative we can all get behind?”
Along with that omission, and the clever use of words like “hawk,” “tout,” and “spokesman,” the reader is left to believe that I’ve been empowered to speak on Walmart’s behalf in some sort of official capacity. In fact, I have not. I’m doing this because I want to encourage other companies to make similar investments in American manufacturing. That’s it.
Of course, I’m not the only one with an agenda, and Aimee knows it. Ori Korin is a spokesperson for “Jobs with Justice,” and she’s trying very hard to persuade people that Walmart is treating its workers unfairly. Aimee quotes Ori as being disappointed with my decision to work with “a company as notorious as Walmart.” Ori also believes I was “too quick to dismiss” the workers she represents.
Of course, I was already well-aware of Ori’s disappointment with me. To date, Jobs with Justice has carpet-bombed my office with 5,048 form letters, imploring me to sit down with “real Walmart employees” and listen to stories about how unfairly they have been treated. Naturally, Aimee points this out to her readers, and even provides a helpful link to the Jobs with Justice Letter Writing Campaign, so that other objective citizens might continue to overwhelm my modest staff with additional expressions of carbon-copied concern. (Thanks Aimee!)
It's so much easier to be an "activist" when friendly media is so easy to activate! Rowe went on to say his office never received a request for comment the CBS reporter claims to have made on the air. He then addressed the "Jobs for Justice" activist:
Let me really spell this out though, so there’s no confusion at all. I care about the people you represent. That’s precisely why I set up a foundation and a scholarship fund. I’m trying to encourage hardworking people who are unhappy in their jobs to make a meaningful change in their life. A lasting change. And I believe this change is most likely to occur when people are willing to learn a skill that’s in demand. Happily, worthwhile opportunities are everywhere. Our country has a massive skills gap, and the chance to retool and retrain has never been better.
We’re not enemies, Ori. We’re just fighting different battles. You’re trying to wring out a modest increase for people who feel unappreciated by their employer and unhappy in their work. I’m trying to get those same people excited about possibilities and opportunities that go beyond their current positions. Frankly - and I say this with all due respect - I don’t believe that your strategy is in the long-term interest of your members, or for that matter, anyone who wants to improve their lives in a meaningful way.
Think about it, Ori. Many of the workers you represent have jobs that could very well become obsolete in just a few years. Automation, technology, automatic checkouts...the writing is on the wall. But the skilled trades are different. Welders, auto technicians, carpenters, masons, construction workers, healthcare...these opportunities are real, and the rewards go far beyond the minimum wage - whatever that might turn out to be. Walmart may have cornered the market on retail jobs, but the world's a lot bigger than Walmart.
There's something disturbing (and counter-productive) about this tendency to ascribe a vague aura of evil to law-abiding corporations. It represents the exercise of power beyond the law, which is a bad thing, even when the people exercising it believe themselves to have the best intentions. (Most power is wielded by people firmly convinced of their own benevolence, isn't it?)
Wal-Mart isn't doing anything illegal. They comply with every regulation and requirement. If the minimum wage is raised, I don't expect them to disregard it, the way Attorney General Eric Holder advocates ignoring laws he personally disapproves of. It's fair enough to disagree with lawful actions the company takes, but they're being treated as criminals, while people like Mike Rowe are held accountable as accessories to their crimes. We're supposed to turn up our noses at "dirty money," or walk away from jobs it creates. It seems as if only the government can launder that dirty money to the satisfaction of some activists. If Washington announced a $250 billion initiative to "stimulate" American manufacturing, how many of the people chastising Wal-mart would give a standing ovation?
Companies at Wal-mart are castigated as exploiters of the little guy, without recognition of all the things they do to improve the lives of hard-working people - from the jobs they create, to the affordable products they sell. Anyone's moral ledger can be held in the red, if all the black ink is ignored... just as we are expected to applaud the virtue of government programs while ignoring all their negative effects.
At the end of the day, it should count for a lot that Wal-mart lacks the compulsive power, or institutional fiscal irresponsibility, of the super-State. There are no "individual mandates" forcing you to buy their products, or work for them. They can't arbitrarily break agreements with their customers, as this Administration has developed a penchant for doing. Their balance sheets have to add up. I'll take $250 billion from Wal-mart into manufacturing over an inefficient, corrupt, politicized $250 billion federal stimulus program any day of the week. And I'm really tired of being told I must hate the law-abiding, in an era when the law takes so much effort to obey, unless you have one of those priceless Ruling Class exemptions.