Remember when Barack Obama pushed for Wall Street reform by telling a Quincy, Illinois audience that “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money?” These days, the former president has picked up a little extra cash by giving more talks, only his audience has changed. Obama’s now delivering speeches to Wall Street, and pocketing his former annual salary for every appearance, Bloomberg reports, thankfully keeping his family from the precipice of poverty.
While there may be some room for legitimate criticism of these Wall Street paydays from the man who pushed Occupy Wall Street, Bloomberg’s comparison to Hillary Clinton isn’t entirely fair:
Hillary Clinton says she made a mistake when she gave speeches on Wall Street after leaving government. Taking money from banks, she writes in her new memoir, created the impression she was in their pocket.
Her old boss doesn’t seem to share her concern.
Last month, just before her book “What Happened” was published, Barack Obama spoke in New York to clients of Northern Trust Corp. for about $400,000, a person familiar with his appearance said. Last week, he reminisced about the White House for Carlyle Group LP, one of the world’s biggest private equity firms, according to two people who were there. Next week, he’ll give a keynote speech at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s health-care conference.
Obama is coming to Wall Street less than a year after leaving the White House, following a path that’s well trod and well paid. While he can’t run for president, he continues to be an influential voice in a party torn between celebrating and vilifying corporate power. His new work with banks might suggest which side of the debate he’ll be on and disappoint anyone expecting him to avoid a trap that snared Clinton. Or, as some of his executive friends see it, he’s just a private citizen giving a few paid speeches to other successful people while writing his next book.
Ahem. Barack Obama has left government. Hillary Clinton took a vacation from it, or at least that was her intent, and that was only a small part of the time she got paychecks from Wall Street titans like Goldman Sachs. She raked in the bucks as a US Senator from New York, as did her husband, a period of time in which she certainly was part of the government. In fact, she and Bill pulled in $35 million in speaking fees between 2001 and 2014, $26 million of which came between 2009-2014, the first four years of which was her tenure as Secretary of State.
In contrast, Obama has made it clear that he and Michelle have left electoral office behind. He’s not banking cash for a future electoral campaign; he’s banking cash because he can. Obama has gone back to being a private citizen, and he has undeniable market value on the speaking circuit. There is no longer any concern over influence peddling, so why not take advantage of the situation? God bless and stay happily retired, as far as that comparison goes — and for that matter, that applies to Hillary too if she’s truly done with electoral politics.
Still, scoring big checks from Wall Street certainly does provide a remarkable contrast to Obama’s public stands six years ago with Occupy Wall Street. Seeing that Mitt Romney would be the GOP’s nominee the next year, Obama shaped the battlefield by going all-in on OWS, at one point cheering them on by suggesting that Martin Luther King would have supported them. Anti-wealth class warfare suited Obama’s needs at the time — and it worked, too, as Obama and Democrats relentlessly demonized Romney for his Bain Capital years.
In the end, though, what does that matter? Obama’s escaped from accountability in that manner too. The biggest issue this raises is the question of presidential retirement pensions under the Former Presidents Act. It’s time to curtail the cash payments to former presidents, while maintaining the necessary security and health coverage due to former heads of state, perhaps at least through some means test. If they want to cash in on their former office, that’s their right, but we don’t need to pay their salaries and expenses while living high off the hog on the speaking circuit.