What Obama Really Needs


I just received a letter from President Obama. Right there on the outside envelope are the words “I need you.” After not answering several letters which I have mailed and faxed to him, I was, for the briefest of moments, curious about this personal plea for help. Then, of course, I realized that it was a form letter from Mr. Obama via the auspices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

I started reading the two page, single-spaced missive. His words prompt responses.

He opens with undeniable declarations, to wit: “There are times in the life of our nation when America’s course can only be set by the concerted effort of citizens determined to pull our country through.

This is one of those times—and your personal involvement in moving America forward is absolutely essential.”

Just what this “personal involvement” is all about is unclear, other than to make a “contribution of $25, $35 or even $50 to the Democratic National Committee” which is somehow supposed to make sure that “America’s families are actively engaged in the critical decisions that lie ahead.”

This money will fund something called “Organizing for America” under the DNC which will unleash “volunteers and activists” to “carry our message…all across this great country of ours.”

The “message” includes “reforms that will bring down the cost of health insurance for families.” But Mr. Obama has taken the one reform—single payer, which he used to support—off the table and replaced it with a bill over a 1000 pages that will do just the opposite—to the delight of the drug and health insurance industries (see singlepayeraction.org).

Continuing into the letter, Mr. Obama emphasizes that “in communities all across America, people are worried about whether they’re going to have a job and paycheck to count on.”

But he has done nothing to support the card check reform to facilitate workers forming unions—an objective he supported during his presidential campaign. Still no push on Congress, no ringing statement of support, as he has uttered numerous times in promoting his various bailouts of Big Business.

One way to help low income workers to pay their bills is to elevate the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour which is what the minimum wage was in 1968, adjusted for inflation. The federal minimum wage is now $7.25. Adding $2.75 per hour would increase consumer demand in our faltering real economy.

The Democrats and Republicans, who gave bailouts in the trillions of dollars for the paper economy of the mismanaged, speculating, reckless big banks, big investment firms and insurance giants like AIG, should provide some economic assistance to workers on Main Street and not just Wall Street.

Mr. Obama writes: “Let’s put America’s future in the hands of people who are willing to work hard, willing to take their responsibilities seriously….” Perhaps Mr. Obama should read the short book by one of his Harvard Law School professors, Richard Parker, titled Here the People Rule. Professor Parker makes a strong case that the government has a constitutional duty to facilitate the political and civic energies of the people.

An important pathway toward this objective is to provide facilities whereby the people can easily band together in their nonprofit civic advocacy associations which they would fund themselves. Mr. Obama can start this process now by supporting a provision to establish a financial consumer association (FCA) with the pending legislation to start a consumer financial regulatory agency.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supported a Financial Consumer Association in 1985 when he was in the House of Representatives. Remember the savings and loan bailouts?

A similar provision can be included in the pending health insurance legislation. These facilities help to redress the present severe imbalance of power between the unorganized people and the corporate power machines which are often taxpayer subsidized and able to deduct lobbying expenses.

These consumer facilities have some precedents. In Obama’s home state of Illinois thousands of consumers of electric, telephone and gas companies voluntarily pay their membership dues to their private advocacy group: Illinois CUB (see http://www.citizensutilityboard.org).

He asks for our “personal participation.” Well why doesn’t he meet with the leaders of consumer, worker and poverty groups in the White House with the frequency with which he meets with the CEOs of giant corporations in the banking, insurance (Aetna), oil, gas, coal, auto and other commercial interests?

Instead he has turned his back on the very constituencies which gave him most of his votes. These are the people who remember Mr. Obama’s campaign promises and all his intonations of “hope and change,” including moving to reform the privileged tax laws for the rich and corporations and revising the notorious trade agreements.

Since Mr. Obama wants “personal participation,” how about moving for D.C. statehood or at least his expressed desire for voting rights and Congressional representation for the residents of the nation’s capital? As the months drag on with a Democratic Congress and a Democratic White House, people are losing hope for any change in their present state of political servitude.

RALPH NADER is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.



Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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