by Ralph Nader
Needed: Three Obama Speeches for the People
Dear President Obama:
All the daily decisions and crises you have to confront must not preclude occasional addresses to the country that rise to the level of statesmanship, transcending the hurly-burly of politics and executive branch administration.
There are three areas where the people need the views and vision of their President.
1. A major address on the resources and preconditions necessary for the government to wage peace as a continual policy of statecraft and not just sporadic initiatives between waging war or engaging in other violent conflicts. Consider the enormous disparity of time, power and money allocated to preparing for or waging military assaults with what is devoted to prevention of conflict and other fundamentals of securing the conditions for peace. The tiny U.S. budgets for nuclear, chemical and biological arms control with the Soviet Union and other nations over the years have certainly produced positive returns of incalculable magnitude and importance.
We have military academies but no peace academies. Vast sums are allocated for research and teaching about war and military tactics, but very little for peace studies at our schools and universities. You may wish to meet with former Washington Post columnist, Colman McCarthy, who teaches peace in the Washington D.C. area schools and has written pioneering books and articles that include his compelling arguments for having peace studies adopted in high schools and colleges around the country (see http://www.salsa.net/peace/conv/ for more information).
2. Earlier in 2009 and again in 2011 I wrote to urge you to address a large gathering, in a convenient Washington venue, for the leaders of nonprofit civic organizations with tens of millions of members throughout the United States. Not receiving a reply, I sent my request to the First Lady, Michelle Obama, whose assistant replied saying you were too busy.
You were, however, not too busy to address many business groups and also to walk over to the oppositional U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Well, it is the second term and such a civic gathering could be scheduled at your convenience. You could use this occasion to make a major speech on the importance and means of advancing the quality and quantity of civic groups and their chapters which, taken together, are major employers. Your advisers could even justify the effort as stimulating a jobs program by urging larger charitable contributions from the trillions of dollars of inert money in the hands of the upper economic classes.
3. Strengthening democratic processes and expanding democratic institutions and participation by the people are cardinal functions of the presidency. Indeed, Harvard Law Professor, Richard Parker in his little, seminal book: Here the People Rule (Harvard University Press, 1998) argues that the constitution authorizes the President “to facilitate the political and civic energies of the people.”
A major address on this topic should be right up your experiential alley from both your early experience in Chicago of observing and confronting the power structures’ many forms of exclusion and mistreatment of the populace and your more recent accommodation to that power structure and its influence over Congress.
As has been said, democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires a motivated citizenry, along with rights, remedies, and mechanisms that facilitate people banding together as candidates, voters, workers, taxpayers, consumers and communities. Concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few who decide for the many is the great destroyer of any society’s democratic functions. It was Justice Louis Brandeis who, memorably, stated that, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” And another well-regarded jurist, Judge Learned Hand declared, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: thou shalt not ration justice.”
As “politics” is seen by more people as a dirty word and as the people move from cynicism about political institutions to greater withdrawal from them, including public meetings, primaries, elections and referenda, they need a president who addresses these disabling symptoms of a weakening democratic society from the local to the state to the national levels of our political economy.
Such an address will have positive reverberations beyond the general public. Depending on your scope, recommendations and announcements, it will reach the youth of our country, our high schools, universities, workplaces and professional schools. Why it may even affect the moribund, technical routines of the Harvard Law Review (where you were president in 1990) as well as other law schools, bar associations and lawyers who aspire to higher estimates of their own professional significance (see my remarks “The Majesty of the Law Needs Magisterial Lawyers” before the Connecticut Bar Association June 17, 2013). If law means justice, as it should, then the rule of law needs presidential refurbishing to strengthen the fiber of our democracy.
I hope you will see the merit of these three suggestions. A copy of this letter is being sent to the First Lady, Michelle Obama, whose staff may be responsive in a different manner.
I look forward to your reaction.
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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).