Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Obama: Sweat the Small Stuff for Big Justice


The imaginative uses of the mighty presidency in American history and its bully pulpit have rarely been much above amateurish when it comes to helping people empower themselves. This has been the case even when the same party controls the White House and both Houses of Congress.

Consider the last opportunities when Clinton and Obama were in that enviable position, during 1993-1994 and 2009-2010, respectively. Both Clinton and Obama fell short, unable even to get an adequate public works agenda passed through Congress (Repair America) that would have produced good, un-exportable jobs in many communities.

Now Obama has lots of excuses as to why this and that cannot be accomplished. Due to his and the congressional Democrats’ inept political hands against the vulnerably vicious and corporatist Republican Party, Obama points to the Republican’s email Senate filibusters, and the stubborn postures of Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor as reasons for not really pushing, for example, for a very popular minimum wage that catches up with 1968, inflation-adjusted. (See

So let’s lower the bar and ask why Mr. Obama doesn’t just use his high visibility to put forces in motion that strengthen our democratic society without requiring legislation or tax revenues? Here are some suggestions, out of many:

1.      Obama could announce his desire to speak to a convocation of leaders of national civic groups that have millions of members around the country. He could highlight their good works via the mass media. He could prompt more philanthropy, especially from the very rich, to these worthy organizations that work to help the poor, children, the environment, beleaguered communities and others  in need. An annual increase of only $10 billion in private donations for more staff positions would produce more than 300,000 jobs a year and provide serious help to millions of people.

I wrote the president last year urging him to visit any Washington, D.C. hotel ballroom to meet with civic leaders, as did president-elect Jimmy Carter in 1976. The office of Michelle Obama replied that his schedule did not have time for such a gathering. Yet, he has gone to numerous distant factories to promote products, even going all the way to India to urge Indians to purchase Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Boeing airplanes.

2.      After graduating from Columbia University, young Barack Obama worked for a few months at the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) – a large and well-regarded, student-funded public interest organization involved in numerous community improvements around the state – advocating justice, not charity.

PIRGs operate in about 30 states. Not once has Obama addressed their gatherings and urged that all colleges and universities should provide similar check-offs that would enable millions of students to develop extracurricular civic skills and experiences while improving their society.

Engaging civil society helps balance Obama’s exhortations to students to seek occupational training at institutions of higher education. The president has declined to use his community organizing reputation in New York and Chicago to focus the public and the media on such simple ways to strengthen our weakening democracy.

There is no need to dwell much on comparisons of how much time he has spent cloistered with very wealthy campaign contributors who are further undermining our democracy.

3.      The warring president might expend some of his fame to bring attention to those Americans who are waging peace through direct field involvement, advocacy or with peace studies. The corporate-criminal class gets the presence of the president at trade association meetings, but not the likes of the American Friends Service Committee or Colman McCarthy’s Center for Teaching Peace working to expand peace studies curricula at high schools and colleges (

4.      What about visiting events defending unions under attack by right-wing governors and their corporatist allies or encouraging workers in large companies to unionize as he subsidizes these corporate bosses with many programs?

Remarkably, President Obama studiously avoided going to Madison, Wisconsin in 2011 to support the rallying of workers against Governor Scott Walker’s moves to stripmine worker rights. He also banned Vice President Joe Biden (a self-styled union man) from accepting an invitation there by the Wisconsin Labor Federation.

By contrast, he walked across Lafayette Park in February 2011 to pay homage to the chronically selfish and anti-labor U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He could have gone around the corner to visit the AFL-CIO representing 13 million American workers, but he declined.

5.      Championing, through check-off facilities, so that people can voluntarily band together around specific endeavors would be easy for the president. He could start by establishing check-offs for taxpayer watchdog associations on the 1040 tax return and periodic postal notices to residential addresses inviting people to join a postal consumers’ group. Corporations are massively over-represented compared to citizens at the councils of government.

All companies receiving corporate welfare from taxpayers should be required, as a condition of getting these subsidies, handouts and bailouts, to include in their bills and communications with customers invitations for consumers to band together and support nonprofit organizations with full-time consumer champions fighting for their rights.

Just about every industry in the country – banking, utilities, insurance, fuel, healthcare, food – is on the dole, one way or the other. This simple reciprocity would facilitate tens of millions of Americans to have an organized voice and expertise to defend and extend their livelihoods (

If President Obama sweats the small stuff, he will empower the American people to take greater charge of their government and their future over the destructive and cowardly corporatism that now dominates Washington, D.C.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

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

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”