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Election-year civics lesson from Wal-Mart - Rob Felt

What is the significance of Wal-Mart's inception occurring during the counterculture revolution of the 1960s? Campus crawlers were hot in the pants to denounce our government and advance socialist ideals. Don't get the connection? What does this have to do with the presidential election and Libertarians? Here we go ?

In a moment of pure "Eureka!" capitalism, Sam Walton had the vision that small towns could support large stores. Rodgers, Ark., became ground zero in 1962. Since then the rolling juggernaut has plowed through our entire country and expanded to nearly a dozen others. With 4,400 locations worldwide and 1.3 million employees Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer. Well good for them.

One may conclude that this fiercely competitive American company is offering people something they've wanted, hence its success. Are Wal-Mart customers really getting what they want, or do they complacently want what they get? In small rural areas where one giant Supercenter dominates the commercial landscape and has choked out any competition what alternatives exist?

At its current level Wal-Mart no longer represents a capitalistic success, but a socialist machine. These 1.3 million workers punch the same time clock and eat from the same stew pot. Products in all 50 states and other countries resemble each other and as a result so do the homes of dedicated Wal-Mart shoppers worldwide. A desk lamp in California is the same as one in Maine and is the same as one in Mexico City and is the same as one in – everywhere!

Individuality and freedoms have been crushed under this force. Music, movies and books must pass Wal-Muster before they receive an inch on a store shelf. This industrial censorship is exactly what civil libertarians fear most from our government: control of information.

Wal-Mart has failed to understand its responsibility of delivering a cross-section of ideas to areas where no alternative source is available. Only the recent rise of Internet commerce has given any competition to their stranglehold on entertainment media in rural areas.

Add to this all-encompassing working and shopping environment the banking system and limited health care facilities (eye exams, haircuts and nail services) that Supercenters contain and you've damn near got a Wal-Mart Bio-Dome. All they need is an attached apartment building, birthing clinic and crematory to create, sustain and put to rest an entire human life.

Now for your election year civics segment ?

Government has grown under the Bush administration. It is all but guaranteed that government would grow under any Democratic president. Wal-Mart gives us a perfect example of what a bloated system offers: no choice, lower quality and control of more and more areas of our lives every year.

Put it together and what do you get? Time to start voting Libertarian – end government's infraction in our lives and open the free market back up. "Tear down that Wall – Mart!" Democrats want to seize and redistribute our money and Republicans want to dictate our morals. Wal-Mart controls both of these areas. See what happens?

Just some clever analogy, you say? Think of a small town in Alabama whose entire population hovers around their Wal-Mart for nearly every need. Soak that idea in for a minute. For the most part they buy only what is between the four walls of that building. As our government locks down more economic and social choices we have access to a Wal-Mart equivalent lifestyle.

Both major political parties are working in their own way to transform our country into that small Alabama town.

Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at rfelt@henryherald.com.