At Menards, employees learn to become lobbyists for the billionaire owner

You want to trust your hardware store employee. Anyone pawning instruments that can render a user's hand into something resembling abstract art should have the customer's full faith and credit.

So shoppers in Stillwater might be comforted to know that 46 percent of local Menards staff have taken the company's In-Home Training (IHT) program. It's an assuring phrase — until you realize the training makes them better at selling everything but hardware.

The goal is to turn them into Masterforce belt sanders (only $88.11!) that can reduce government to sawdust.

This was revealed by the website Gawker, which posted a cache of internal documents about Menards' training program for management-track employees. Stillwater's 46 percent is actually low compared to shops in Illinois, where one top-ranked store in Plainfield (98 percent participation) presumably sells blueprints for constructing a trickle-down economy in your own home.

As monsters go, Menards seems a shaggy-tailed bogeyman, a home improvement store whose lamely catchy jingle makes its commercials feel like they were filmed in the fall of 1994.

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Climbing the corporate ladder means swallowing small-government propaganda.

In fact, the homespun chain belongs to John Menard Jr., the richest person in Wisconsin with a net worth north of $10 billion. His training is presented as career advancement for staff. It's actually a crash course in keeping people like John Menard as rich as society will allow.

The documents appear to date back to the early part of this decade. The ideas are outdated by at least a century.

The first in the four-part series stresses American history, from pre-colonial protest through the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, with all 27 amendments, are reprinted in their entirety. Maybe this is supposed to teach Menards staff just how boring their job will be.

But the real "lesson" here comes in chapter four of the Menards bible. Employees learn that laws are just things that get in the way of America achieving its inherent greatness.

"Limited government and individual liberties are the foundation of American economic dominance," reads the manual, issued to people whose principal job is to help customers pick out the right joint compound.

"Private property is to be protected, not taken or taxed," the document continues. That's because "taxes always limit freedom," though it's hard to imagine what kind of freedom is being denied a guy who's made $10 billion.

The training is really a call to action, encouraging rank-and-file workers to take up arms against government interference. Call your congressman! Write a letter to the editor! Start blogging!

And make sure to stay on message, which shouldn't be too hard if you've already endured the brainwashing that came in the previous 170 pages. "Taxation, regulation, and legislation... make it more difficult for business to make a profit," says one passage.

What sort of regulation is Menards referring to here? Consider the time in 1997 when John Menard was caught dumping high-arsenic wood ash at his own house. He was fined $2 million. His only regret was living in a country that cared enough to stop him. A few years later, the Minnesota Attorney General sued Menard for trying to sell arsenic-flavored mulch for use at elementary school playgrounds.

Hardware store tycoons aren't usually known for writing extensive philosophical tracts. In this case, Menard didn't.

As it turns out, huge chunks of the In-Home Training were lifted from National Public Radio, About.com, the Wikipedia.org listing for "emissions trading," and the esteemed economic historians at the Great Falls Tea Party Patriots.

The most interesting patriotic theft comes in chapter three of the documents, where the company rises in support of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's economic plans. Menards launches a defense of the "Path to Prosperity," Ryan's low-tax/kiss-Social-Security-goodbye agenda.

Here's a major big-box corporation, one of the largest privately held companies in the country, force-feeding its employees the drivel of a guy whose "poverty" plan amounts to patting homeless people on the head. (Not before he puts on his gloves.)

Attention, shoppers, we are through the looking glass! And looking glasses are on sale for $499! This weekend only!

"As a rule," the training scheme says, "if an elected official receives a phone call or letter from a constituent, they realize that at least one hundred others hold the same view."

Counterpoint: As a rule, if an elected official gets a call from "Hank, a manager at Menards," they should assume that whatever bullshit follows is nothing but pre-fab politics.

John Menard isn't training anyone to be better at work. He's training an army of droid lobbyists to do his bidding, even if that agenda — screw the environment, and hands off my billions — hurts the common man, the kind of person who might actually shop at a Menards.

Or work there.



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