It seems like only yesterday when I was saying that there was absolutely nothing wrong with former President Barack Obama going out and making some big bucks on the speaking circuit now that he’s out of office. Oh, wait… it was only yesterday. Apparently I was taking something of a minority opinion on that one, at least in some circles. I’m not sure if I’m writing this after having accidentally stepped onto the set of one of those Backwards Day movies or not, but who could have imagined only a few months ago that I’d be defending the 44th president while a group of liberals were hurling invective at him?
Yes, it seems that many people have problems about Obama collecting $400K for giving a speech to Wall Street. One of the first that caught my eye was the decidedly not liberal editorial board of the NY Post, making me do a double take when they published a piece under the title of, When Will Obama Have Made Enough Money? Don’t be fooled like I was. They’re actually saying that he’s fully entitled to the biggest slice of the American Pie he can cut, but they then go on to note that there’s more than a bit of a flip flop on display considering some of his previous comments.
All that said, there is something a bit . . . rich here, given what Obama had to say in a 2010 speech pushing tougher Wall Street regulation:
“We’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”
Which makes you wonder when Obama will reach the point where he’s earned enough.
Fair enough. So it’s a bit hypocritical. But… come on, man. The guy is a politician. He said all sorts of things and they all served his political purposes at the time. Now he’s on the capitalist bull busting out of the gate and he’s going to make the most of his eight seconds in the saddle. If he’s getting $60M for his next book with his wife (rumored to be an actual thing) and wants to tack on another stack of millions from speeches, now is the time to do it.
Aaron Blake at the Washington Post took a far more serious tone, laying out four reasons why it’s “a bad idea” for Obama to take food from the grubby hands of those dirty old Wall Street fat cats. Read the entire thing for context, but these are the top lines.
1) It continues to set a dubious precedent
2) We have other rules against retroactively cashing in
3) Democrats are trying to be the anti-Wall Street party
4) Obama himself discussed the corrupting influence of such arrangements in his book
Even if I don’t agree with the conclusion, Blake makes some valid observations. And if I were Barack Obama and given the chance to speak with Mr. Blake after reading that I believe I’d be saying, “All very good points, Aaron. Now hold my beer. I’ve got a speech to give.”
These weren’t the only complaints by a long shot. Matt Yglesias (yeah, I know… it’s Vox, but…) wrote an article titled, “Obama’s $400,000 Wall Street speaking fee will undermine everything he believes in.” I can sympathize with the hurt feelings, Matt, but that argument is based on the premise that Obama actually believed all of that stuff when he said it. And I’m sure he did… in theory. But the theory falls apart pretty quickly when it’s time to fill up the coffers. He’s not doing anything illegal or even immoral. Cut the guy some slack.
More responses came in on Twitter from other Vox writers and beyond.
This is what Obama said literally the same day his $400K Wall Street speech was revealed. The, er, um … audacity pic.twitter.com/P3hTwOPZ6j
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_Vox) April 25, 2017
Is Obama Already Buckraking on Wall Street? https://t.co/0yUwi5zFbx
— Kevin Drum (@kdrum) April 25, 2017
Am I alone here, guys? I agreed with Barack Obama on almost precisely zero items during his entire time in office so it’s not as if I’m sitting in front of my Hope and Change shrine and weeping in worry over whether or not he and Michelle will be okay. But I’m not going to deny the guy the chance to earn for all he’s worth before he fully retires. This is still America. Let the man eat.