My Unethical Inauguration Trivia Question

Washington Inaug

Today began with an unethical Presidential trivia question from a friend, who couldn’t even wait for me to get up, and left it with Grace. The question? “What was the warmest Presidential inauguration?” His answer: Gerald Ford, who was sworn in after President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, and it was 89 degrees. However, the question was misleading (and knowing this guy, deliberately so), especially since it was asked on Inauguration Day, which is what we generally mean when we we refer to a President’s inauguration. Vice-Presidents who take over the job don’t get “inaugurations,” although it is technically correct to call the beginning of anything an inauguration. Have you ever heard or read about Lyndon Johnson’s swearing in on Air Force One on November 22, 1963 as his “inauguration” after President Kennedy was assassinated? Neither have I. He was “sworn in.” A Presidential Inauguration with an upper case “I” always refers to Inauguration DAY, but as my wife pointed out, you can’t tell over the phone whether a word is capitalized.

Millard Fillmore was also sworn into office during a Washington, D.C. summer, on July 10, 1850, after President Taylor expired. I can’t find any reference to the temperature, but it often tops 90 in July here. If we are discussing Inaugurations with a big I, Ronald Reagan gets credit for the warmest modern ceremony at 55 degrees for his first term , and also the modern record for the coldest January D.C. day at 7 degrees when he took his second oath.

My guess this morning, without checking, was that the warmest Inauguration record belongs to George Washington. The first inauguration ceremony was held on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City on April 30, 1789. (It had been delayed from the original March date because such a throng was expected, and more time was needed to prepare.) Accounts say there was sunshine and a temperature of around 60 degrees for that event. (That’s another problem with my annoying friend’s “gotcha!” question: weather stats for the 19th and 18th century are often sketchy.) I think my guess is probably right, too. After George Washington, the inauguration date became March 4th where it stayed until 1937; it was changed to January 20th. If the day falls on a Sunday, the event is moved to the 21st.

Ethics Q & A On Obama’s Speaking Fees

Former President Barack Obama received a $400,000 speaking fee for an appearance at an A&E Network event  yesterday, just as controversy was building over Obama accepting the same fee to appear at a Wall Street firm’s conference.

What’s going on here?

The ex-President is cashing in, that’s what’s going on here. This has become standard operating procedure for former POTUSes, beginning with Gerald Ford, who was showered with criticism by Democrats and the news media for signing with the William Morris agency and picking up what was at the time considered obscene speaking fees from corporations and foreign governments. Ford’s fees are dwarfed by Obama’s, but then Barack is a much better speaker than the late President Ford was. (Almost anyone is.)

Jimmy Carter showed admirable restraint by not devoting his post-Presidency to enriching himself off of his years in office, but Ronald Reagan took some mega-fees to speak abroad. The Clintons, as we know too well, instantly went from rags to riches by selling their celebrity, an exercise that was especially dubious because Hillary was on the rise. Obama’s speaking fees are just one more step along the cashing-in path that both he and Michelle had already begun traveling with the astounding 65 million dollar deal the couple signed to write their biographies.

Some questions and answers on the ethics of Obama’s payday:

1.  Is Obama ‘s acceptance of all this money ethical?

In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t. He set a fee, and someone is willing to pay it. Hillary’s fee was $250,000; if she can get that much for her dry-as-toast delivery as a former Senator, Secretary of State and First Lady, Obama’s a bargain at $400,000. As a private citizen, he has the same right any of us do to sell his books and speeches at whatever the market will bear.

I, for example, get $37.56 for an hour long speech, and am glad to get it..

2. But it isn’t in a vacuum, right?

Right. Obama still has power and influence; he still promises to be a voice in the Democratic party. He’s not exactly a private citizen, and no ex-President is. Taking such a large payment from a Wall Street firm, after all of Obama’s rhetoric (and that of Bernie Sanders, the non-Democrat now being paraded as a leader of the Democratic party) condemning Wall Street has the decided whiff of hypocrisy about it. Not only, that, but as with Hillary Clinton and Bill, the payment of such jaw-dropping amounts for minimal service natural raises questions of pay-offs. Obama’s administration famously sought no criminal sanctions for Wall Street executives despite their  role in what Obama called “driving the economy into a ditch.” How do we know this wasn’t part of an installment payment to Obama for services already rendered, a quid pro quo? We don’t.

It is also hard to make sense out of those fees if they aren’t paying for something more than an hour long speech.

3. So these fees create “the appearance of impropriety?” Continue reading