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