America learning to love Walmart

Walmart has come a long way in terms of cleaning up its image, but hating the company is still something of a national pastime. At least, if you go by the comments Walletpop readers leave on most Walmart themed stories. But is our collective dislike for the Walmart empire still going strong?

Fortune'sHank Gilman gives thoughtful consideration to the issue this week. Gilman outlines the many practices that made Walmart "the most evil company on the planet" -- like hard to obtain health benefits, union busting activities, or main street decimating predatory practices.

"But that was then," Gilman writes. "Now the masses don't seem all that concerned about the biggest retailer in America stomping us all like the aliens did in Independence Day."

There's a lot of good reasons for that, including Walmart's focus on improving conditions and executing some strategic marketing and public relations programs.

So who's our punching bag now?

Wall Street of course. Bad business practices, blame for the financial crisis, and a hard to kick addiction to big bonuses will likely hold our collective attention for a good long time.

Can Target be evil too? It is anti-union, pays similarly low wages, pressures suppliers to keep lowering prices and sources product from the same Chinese factories that Walmart favors. But I don't really see another retailer, especially Target, being reviled like Walmart. It goes against human nature.

We need someplace to buy our toilet paper and toothpaste, and it seems important that our store of choice assuage our conscience's. We don't want to know that Target's merchandise is made offshore, or that store employees are paid a meager hourly wage with stingy benefits.

Writes Gilman: "People are just looking for good deals now, no matter where they find them and don't feel compelled to talk about it at their kids' soccer games. Maybe Wal-Mart is now the new Target -- who knows?"

Walmart the new Target? I wouldn't go that far. But as Target grows and we look for the next collective punching bag, could Target be the new Walmart? I'm not holding my breath.
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