Setting the Narrative: SC, The Piggly Wiggly, Tea Party & Capitalism

Tonight the remaining five candidates for the GOP presidential nomination take the debate stage in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My family and I went to Myrtle Beach, for Christmas, visiting my Mom and other relatives.

After a week, we saw only one campaign sign—for Ron Paul.  But as we drove to the airport at the end of the week, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw two men hammering into the patch of grass along the highway interchange a HUGE sign for Newt Gingrich. The tag line was “Rebuilding the America We Love.”

I scrambled for my camera, but my sister was merging onto the highway and I missed it.

One photo I did get was in Charleston the night before. My sister-in-law, a retired middle school teacher, gave us a “tour” of historic Charleston, taking us on the battery to see the mansions facing the Cooper River. She stopped in front of one of them and told us “This is the house of the owner of the Piggly Wiggly.” It was night, but illuminated in the majestically columned porch were three flags, left to right: the flag of South Carolina, the flag of the USA, and the flag “Don’t Tread On Me.”

My husband stopped the car and in the balmy Charlestonian night air, I took a picture. So the Piggly Wiggly’s owner is a Tea Party patriot? If not the owner, then someone in that house is!



Reading a little of  Piggly Wiggly’s history, it made sense that “The Pig” would be fond of three pillars of The Tea Party: 1) free markets; 2) Constitutionally limited government and; 3) fiscal responsibility. The company was founded in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee by the late Clarence Saunders, who left school at age 14 to clerk at a general store. Saunders actually patented the first “self service” grocery store in 1917, and licensed the business format to other grocers. Since customers were able to buy goods on their own, without going through a clerk (think Mr. Olson, behind a counter, selling to customers on “Little House on the Prairie”), Piggly Wiggly played a major role on merchandising and branding.

It’s said that the Piggly Wiggly was the first to provide check out stands, put a price mark on every item in the store and provide shopping carts for customers.  Today, according to their website, “Piggly Wiggly Carolina has become the largest employee-owned, privately operated retail company in South Carolina, servicing over 100 retail stores with annual sales over $800 million and a workforce of over 6,000 employee-owners throughout South Carolina and southeastern Georgia.”  The benefits of Piggly Wiggly –and other pro-business ventures–are numerous and far-reaching. In his book, How Toyota Became #1, historian David Magee traces how the Piggly Wiggly “just in time” inventory strategy influenced Toyota management to develop its “Toyota Production System”. The Piggly Wiggly is a unique story of American capitalism. Even better, where else can you find a “Smile Manager” whose top priority is to make you smile? Gotta love that.

What a great story of capitalism–risk, innovation, hard work, investment, profit, growth, failure, more growth. The cycle repeats.  Sure, there are hiccups along the way, but that is the way of capitalism. Although, in the present 2012 campaign that word has become a dirty word. In fact, on Sean Hannity’s television program, pollster Frank Lutz said that “capitalism” is a word from Karl Marx. Instead, says Lutz, we should be talking about “economic freedom.” I wrote about that here, noting that Rush Limbaugh rejects any attempt to “dumb down” capitalism; what got us into the current economic mess was not capitalism.

Sarah Palin wrote about the virtues of capitalism, and the difficulty politicians have explaining it, in her book Going Rogue:

We are currently in the midst of an economic crisis, and the recovery is slow in coming. But I do have fundamental faith in the American entrepreneurial spirit. We go through booms and busts, and America comes out stronger. Just as wildfires in Alaska burn away deadfall to make way for new growth, so too does the business cycle undergo a process of “creative destruction.” We let some dying businesses fail as new businesses emerge. The horse and buggy gradually disappeared after Henry Ford introduced an affordable automobile…The marketplace changes. Often it’s not easy for politicians to explain to their constituents this process of “creative destruction” with its booms and its busts, because more and more politicians prefer pandering instead. Tney complicate simple and sober truths, and make vague promises to get elected.

Now is the time for a substantive discussion of capitalism. Better now than later. The Democrats probably didn’t want this all to bubble up now in January–they probably wanted to hammer Mitt Romney with this in September when he and the GOP wouldn’t have time to answer and inform.  It’s good for the process–it’s part of the rough and tumble, the vetting of the primary season that Gov. Palin has spoken about before.

After the 2010 midterm elections, Palin advised that to win 2012 we must set the narrative.   While the liberal press, Obama and the Democrats are desperately trying to shape it first (see the pathetic Occupy Wall Street protests here, and their attempt to blame their failures on Mitt Romney, Bain Capital and practitioners of this sort of capitalism here), tonight’s debate is a perfect opportunity for the GOP to set the narrative –now and not in September–and explain clearly what real capitalism is and why it, and businesses like the Piggly Wiggly, are best for America.


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1st generation Hispanic Mom. Former Producer/Associate Producer of news & documentaries at ABC, CBS, PBS, Lifetime, TLC. Help to run our small orthodontic practice with my husband.

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