More often than not and now more than ever, once a sitting president leaves office, he does the following: treats his former status as the most powerful person on earth for the winning Lotto ticket it is. This is done by way of lucrative book fees, high-paid speaking engagements and sitting on a board or 27 ½ for a pretty, pretty nice amount of money.
For former President Barack Obama, who can boast of being not only one of the few two-term Democratic presidents but also the first black one, such bonafides make him even more capable of making lots and lots of bread (please read “bread” in the voice of Stevie J).
However, like many things associated with his time in office, what was once considered a norm for others is now suddenly an issue when Obama partakes in the practice.
For more than a week now, a fair number of folks have been complaining about Obama netting $400,000 for a speaking engagement on top of the reported $60 million he and former first lady Michelle Obama earned for their collective book deal. Newsweek writer Chris Riotta asks the following: “How could it be that Obama, the smooth-talking Democratic candidate in 2008 who slammed Wall Street greed and resonated with the working class in a way his party has since been unable to authentically recreate, is living his post-presidential life like an elitist one percent?”
The annoyances in this leading question are twofold. One, to quote many a lovable Negro today, “I just think it’s funny how” suddenly the first black president has to be held to certain standards with respect to making money. After all, capitalism is a religion in America, so it’s peculiar that anyone is perplexed that a former head of state of this capitalistic country wouldn’t follow traditions such as seeing his postpresidency through the lens of “Cash rules everything around me.” Yet the likes of Riotta and others have been asking, “Isn’t $60 million enough?”
Go ask a Clinton, a Bush, a Reagan or a Kennedy that. Speaking of, Obama and Bill Clinton biographer David Maraniss said, Obama “does not need the money and should not accept it.” A Clinton biographer said this. The Clintons treated the White House like an Airbnb for big donors and made several fortunes after the Clinton presidency. But please, Barry, don’t get too rich on ’em. Mind you, the types making these calls are well-paid white folks in media who currently earn far more than I and others like me make for similar, if not less, work.
As for the 2008 Obama who “slammed Wall Street,” there is a bit of revisionist history at hand. Like a kid at the end of an old ABC family sitcom who suddenly saved the day with his naivete, Riotta quotes Obama in 2009 saying, “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street” and ends his piece with this quip: “Maybe that Obama should have a talk with 2017 Obama.”
Obama notoriously raised more money than political opponents like Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mitt Romney from Wall Street. He even raised more money than former President George W. Bush. The Obama administration has long been criticized over this, which is why, when asked about the fee and criticisms over it, Obama spokesman Eric Schultz said: “With regard to this or any speech involving Wall Street sponsors, I’d just point out that in 2008, Barack Obama raised more money from Wall Street than any candidate in history—and still went on to successfully pass and implement the toughest reforms on Wall Street since [President Franklin D. Roosevelt].”
That’s long been an Obama retort to criticism over taking so much money from the Street. One could also easily refute that by noting that many of the folks on Wall Street who played a pivotal role in the financial disaster of years past ought to be in jail. Nevertheless, when it comes to Obama and who he’ll take money from, he’s long told you what he was about. The game is the game, and while you can criticize it as you see fit, don’t rewrite history to make your arbitrary, hypocritical point.
Joining the well-paid media people admonishing Obama for taking $400,000 to speak about health care (imagine the man behind Obamacare doing such a thing) are Democratic politicians with curious ambitions for 2020. Enter Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who said that Obama is a “friend of mine,” yet he finds his decision to be “distasteful.”
“I just think it does not look good,” Sanders explained on CNN. “I just think it is distasteful—not a good idea that he did that.”
Oh, Bernie. You still think 45’s base cares all that much about their own economic well-being as opposed to the preservation of the white establishment and their frail lil’ egos. 45 has been categorized as an economic populist, but he’s a billionaire and longtime scammer who’s stacked his Cabinet with just about all of Goldman Sachs and various other billionaires who know absolutely nothing. And yet those deplorables still heavily support 45, as evidenced by poll after poll.
What’s actually distasteful is that Sanders still doesn’t understand that issues like reproductive rights, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are just as much economic issues as his talking points about the ills of Wall Street. Go do your homework and get out of Obama’s pockets. This is the part where one of his racist supporters will send me a comment calling me a neoliberal and cheerleader for capitalism. I have too much private student loan debt hovering over me to be any of those things.
Then there’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who said she was “troubled” by Obama’s acceptance of that speaking fee. However, she took it further than Sanders did. In an interview with The Guardian, Warren said, “President Obama, like many others in both parties, talk about a set of big national statistics that look shiny and great, but increasingly have giant blind spots.”
Warren went on to say: “The lived experiences of most Americans is that they are being left behind in this economy. Worse than being left behind, they’re getting kicked in the teeth.”
So Obama doesn’t know the lived experiences of most Americans, but Warren apparently does. Yet this is the same person who allowed Ben Carson’s nomination as housing secretary (despite his only qualification being that he can recite the story of Noah’s Ark) to proceed before ultimately voting against him after being roasted like wings by liberals. Of course, Warren is promoting her new book, which is often a prerequisite for a looming presidential bid.
And remember: Warren also campaigned heavily for Hillary “Don’t Be Surprised if She Asks ‘Where the Cash At?’” Clinton.
I agree with Slate’s Daniel Gross, who wrote that critics “assign far too much symbolic value to activities that, at their core, have not been anathema to progressivism in the past and shouldn’t be now.”
This feels like a nonissue made into something larger so certain people who want to maintain their profiles further gain traction. It also comes across as misplaced anger. Even if Obama only accepted $25 and a Popeye’s combo with an extra side of red beans and rice as payment for speaking engagements, it would not set a new tone and change the industry. I mean, the first black president was succeeded by a reality-TV huckster who speaks as if reading more than three sentences will give him a huge migraine. A reality-TV huckster who is using his position as president to enrich himself and his family. A reality-TV huckster who won’t even tell you how much he really makes and from whom.
Obama isn’t the anomaly. Sunkist Stalin is. Go after that crooked president instead of worrying about the old one doing the same thing as all before him.