Barack Obama

Actually, It's Totally Fine That Obama Is Being Paid $400,000 to Give a 'Wall Street Speech'

You don't have to restrict the actions of former government officials to reduce corruption, you have to restrict the actions of government.

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TANNEN MAURY/EPA/Newscom

Since word got out that former President Barack Obama would be paid $400,000 to speak at a healthcare conference sponsored by Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment firm, the condemnation from liberal commentators has been almost unanimous. But there's actually nothing wrong with Obama giving the speech—and the controversy over it illustrates the silly nature of Democrats' (and increasingly Republicans) anti-Wall Street rhetoric and bromides about making "too much money," and their fundamental misunderstanding of why voters just weren't that into Hillary Clinton.

Many of the arguments against Obama's $400,000 speech go like this: it'll "undermine everything he believes in," Matthew Yglesias wrote at Vox.com. According to Yglesias, the former president should have rejected the speaking opportunity because progressives' "Achilles heel" was the perception of corruption. Yglesias also argued ethical rules would never be enough to "prevent the government from being suborned by special interest" and dispel the idea of the private-public sector revolving door.

The opposition to Obama's speech among the Democratic base is fueled by two sentiments propagated by Democrats for years—that there was something wrong with Wall Street (a metonym for the finance industry) as a whole, and that there was such a thing as making enough money.

Bernie Sanders' insurgent campaign and persistent popularity was built on these ideas. Sanders often railed about Wall Street (but rarely about the Federal Reserve or how regulatory capture distorts industries) as well as billionaires and the "1 percent" as a class (n.b., an income of less than $500,000 a year puts an individual in the top 1 percent of income earners, so Sanders' "moral and political war on billionaires" is far broader than he often lets on). Despite trafficking in thoroughly debunked economic nonsense, Sanders' rhetoric was popular.

Obama's Wall Street challenges both those notions—that Wall Street as a concept is a problem and that someone other than the worker can say when he or she's had enough money. Obama is drawing a $400,000 a year pension and signed a $12 million book deal. It's no one's right to tell him when he's made enough money except him or his family.

Sanders has been particularly good at inoculating himself from the dissonance between his rhetoric and his actions. "How many yachts do billionaires need?" Sanders tweeted last week. "How many cars do they need? Give us a break. You can't have it all."

Of course, in America you can have it all. Or at least you can try. Sanders has never really had a career outside of government and is on his third home. No one can determine how many homes Sanders "needs" but him—his government job is fair play. Millions of voters rejected Clinton returning to government service after appearing to "cash out" on it. In a democratic system, popular outrage can be the ultimate ethical rule. Political parties look to separate the distrust of government that might exist among thier supporters from those government officials on "their side." Many voters happily oblige.

Yet it doesn't matter which particular creature is living in the swamp so long as the swamp is there. Government attracts corruption because government accumulates power. The most effective cure for corruption is limiting the power government has over the affairs of free people. Donald Trump played on this during the campaign—pointing out in the Republican primary that he was the only one to have ever bought a politician so he knows what to do about it. The claim is belied by his expansive view of government powers.

Such power invites corruption. Limited government is not an end in to itself. The constitution limits government power in order to limit government abuse; the two can not be disentangled, irrespective of anyone's personal feelings about this swamp creature or that.

Obama's $400,000 speech has little to do with the swamp. Insofar as the companies and groups that will be paying Obama to speak do so in the hopes of gaining influence on the bureaucratic machinations of federal regulators, the problem lies with the rapid growth of the kinds of regulations and bureaucracies wide open to corruption.

The increasingly bipartisan populist rhetoric against Wall Street and corporations in general helps deflect attention from the role of government power in creating the problems in the first place while ensuring that nothing is done to change it.

NEXT: Cops Performed Intrusive Searches on Every Single Student in This High School. No Drugs Found.

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  1. I don’t disagree with your take Ed in terms of my personal opinion of the central problem(s) here, but I don’t know if that holds for society as a whole. I think things like this were a big reason why Clinton was not liked by many people, and I think it did hurt turnout among her base. Bernie’s rhetoric got him over 40% of the primary vote for a reason.

    1. Bernie’s lies got him so many votes in spite of him owning three houses. Corruption is only relative, not absolute.

      1. I’m not arguing Bernie is somehow free of corruption or hypocrisy. I’m just saying that his populist rhetoric appealed to a lot of Democrats and left-leaning Independents, and Clinton being perceived as corrupt hurt her, and that was for multiple reasons, including shadiness at the Foundation, breaking the law with her email scandal, and also the Wall Street speeches, among other things.

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    2. It will definitely hurt Obama the next time he runs for office.

      1. Maybe it’ll be brought up by Republicans when President Warren* nominates him for a SCOTUS vacancy.

        *I just threw up in my mouth a little.

      2. Wrong pronoun there, bro.

      3. He was called President Goldman-Sachs for a reason. Anybody outraged by it never paid attention for 8 yrs.

    3. “I don’t disagree with your take Ed in terms of my personal opinion of the central problem(s) here”. I agree with you/him in terms of the main arguments Ed is making. But,

      “The opposition to Obama’s speech among the Democratic base is fueled by two sentiments propagated by Democrats for years?that there was something wrong with Wall Street (a metonym for the finance industry) as a whole, and that there was such a thing as making enough money.”

      While I agree with the points being made, I don’t think that’s an accurate description of the opposition. In most of what I’ve read, the point of the opposition is that it is hypocritical of Obama. The Democrats who are pissed about this seem to **believe** that Obama has argued (or thinks) that it is wrong to take that kind of money from Wall Street. I don’t know the history of every argument Obama has ever made on the topic, so maybe it is or isn’t a valid argument..

  2. Why does the President get a $400k/yr pension? Isn’t that 100% of his salary?

    1. He worked eight long years to get that pension for the rest of his life. Plus SS protection, transition funds, library funds, etc, etc, etc.

      To have real values, all liberal politicians should sell all they possess except one car at least 3 years old, clothing and the like, and have one house with a mortgage. Then donate all their income over what a minimum wage worker makes on a full time job, and live on that. Then we would see true understanding of “the common man”.

      Bernie is a hustler. See three houses (and how he paid fro them). See his total income. (and the sources). See him be an independent until he needs to become a democrat. See him become an independent again, then tell the democrats how messed up they are.

    2. In this day and age where a former president can make millions by giving a few speeches or having someone else ghostwrite a book, there’s no real need for a pension, and certainly not one that large. This is on top of free lifetime Secret Service protection.

    3. It was done because Congress did not want a poor president who needed to go on food stamps or something like that.

      Once you give in to this kind of government reason for spending, the amounts just keep going up and up.

      Cut the amount to $50k for 4 years and see how the remaining President do on that. Same thing for Congressional retirement- cut that and put them on Social Security like everyone else.

  3. “Barack Obama” the vehicle with which people project their own intellectual, emotional, and political superiority over others and Barack Obama the human being are two different entities. The latter now appears to be interfering with the goals of the former.

    1. Barack Obama? is getting cucked by Barack Obama. Sad!

  4. … it’ll “undermine everything he believes in,” Matthew Yglesias wrote at Vox.com.

    Claims to believe in. But as noted here (and in the most casual of observer’s head), they’re not paying for his eloquence any more than they were for Hillary Clinton’s dulcet tones. They’re paying for access.

    The real remedy for this corruption is indeed reducing the amount someone like Barack Obama can influence the course of our lives, but that ain’t gonna happen. And the liberal commentators surely don’t want it to happen any more than their right-leaning colleagues.

    1. Indeed. But contra Ed, just because it’s inevitable doesn’t mean it’s “totally fine”. It’s a transparent, but legal, form of money laundering for graft. The takeaway is that he’s being paid for political decisions that benefited this particular firm. If more people realized now that Barry is just as corrupt as the rest of them, maybe it would dampen their messiah complex.

  5. Just more evidence of the utterly corrupt political class we are burdened with.

    1. He’s no longer a politician and can make money in whatever legal way he wants.

      All of a sudden you guys are skeptical of capitalism because it’s a Democrat. Pathetic.

      1. Why do I think your new found love of capitalism will evaporate at the same time as this news cycle?

        1. I’ve been defending Hillary’s paid speeches from the holier-than-thou left for years.

          1. I’ve been defending Hillary’s paid speeches from the holier-than-thou left for years.

            That’s because the assortment of bipolar trolls that play your character are all economic illiterates who are uniquely immune from understanding public choice theory, rent seeking and regulatory capture to name just a few simple concepts.

            Crony capitalism is not capitalism.

            1. Sure it is. You can’t get your unregulated capitalism free-for-all and not get bribes and corruption along with it. You need laws and regulations to temper that aspect of capitalism. But a private citizen giving speeches for money isn’t corruption. Even if it’s a Democrat.

              1. It *can* be corruption or unethical.

                But again, you’re not going to get the action of earning income as being problematic around these parts. It’s the BS of it all.

              2. How is the free market prone to corruption if politicians don’t have the power to grant political favors?

                You should examine where the real corruption lies. I can offer a politician any amount I like to do me a favor but if the legislature has not granted him the power to treat me favorably via subsidy, regulation or monopoly power, my efforts will be in vain.

                The root cause is a government so pervasive and powerful that a) it has the power to do favors in the first place, and b) the only practical way to defend of one’s rights is to play the game and play the system.

              3. How is the free market prone to corruption if politicians don’t have the power to grant political favors?

                You should examine where the real corruption lies. I can offer a politician any amount I like to do me a favor but if the legislature has not granted him the power to treat me favorably via subsidy, regulation or monopoly power, my efforts will be in vain.

                The root cause is a government so pervasive and powerful that a) it has the power to do favors in the first place, and b) the only practical way to defend of one’s rights is to play the game and play the system.

              4. The laws and regulations are the CAUSE of the bribes.

          2. And that’s about the only free market activity you will support.

            1. I come to the table assuming most things should be handled by markets. I want like three extra things handled by government that aren’t already. You guys are the radicals who can’t think in gray areas.

              1. The three things:

                Prices
                Uses
                Speech

                1. I’d guess property as well

      2. This isn’t capitalism. This is the longstanding tradition of influence peddling.

        Bill Clinton didn’t get $500,000 speaking fees at a conference because he was a good speaker. He received them as a legal method for people to buy his and his wife’s influence in politics. There was a clearly documented 2-3 fold increase in his speaking fees after Hillary was named SecState and it stayed high during her tenure.
        Barack Obama is getting this $400k speaking fee for the same reason. Whether its legal ‘payback’ for something he did in office, or peddling of his residual influence in DC, it is clear evidence of corruption.

        There was just a story about Cuomo receiving huge excess payments for a book that sold virtually no copies. We can make a good guess why that is.

        I could care less what letter they associate with. It’s corruption through and through regardless of who does it. But it would be nice to see a comparison of Bush II versus Clinton and speaking fees. Most of Bush’s speaking engagements were done for free at charities, or fund raising a veteran functions. A stark difference. Can’t recall Carter ever playing the influence peddling game either. Regardless of his politics, he spent his influence in charity work and props to him.

        1. You are actually saying that no would-be or former politician should be allowed to make money in the private sector. Even if they sat in a cubicle doing customer service, you could construe that to be potential influence peddling from their employer.

          And Bush II doesn’t get the same fees because there is less demand for his speeches. I thought you people were good at this basic stuff.

          1. I wouldn’t advocate for any legal restriction on this activity. The people paying out the money can do with it what they like–unlike you, I believe that it’s their money.

            But that doesn’t mean I can’t wonder about it. For somebody like me who will never see $400k, it seems odd that somebody would give it to a politician (any politician) just to come eat some rubber chicken and read a speech the pol didn’t even write (some hired flunky does it for them). I may be inclined to think something shady was going on. That’s just a matter of trust. I don’t trust politicians.

            1. My company shells out for ice sculptures every Xmas and that never made sense to me either.

              1. LOL I’m with you there. I’m glad my company doesn’t do that.

                1. +1 Giant melting goose.

              2. This is a good instinct.

                My issue is that embracing the “hope” spiel in order to get himself elected president, changes the nature of the game. By doing that he becomes more of a concept than a real person. He’s literally selling himself as the personification of “hope.”

                When you then whore yourself out for $400K because, WTF, you can, that’s all well and good, but it does paint your prior posturing in a new light. It also means that if anyone is paying attention, maybe the next time a politician tries to play the “I’m all your hopes and dreams” card, he’ll be met with a touch more skepticism.

      3. We’re not skeptical of it; we’re just pointing out how everyone is full of shit about it.

        Had his rhetoric and tone while his little reign of faux-progressive terror been a tad more sympathetic to capitalism and entrepreneurship no one would say boo and if they did they’d lack credibility.

        Instead he regaled us with his fascinating run of the mill left-wing gibberish about enterprise and economics.

        But now he gets to say ka-ching and laugh straight in the face of people like you.

      4. Oh. Way to go on missing the point…again….for the 454595966th time.

      5. Hey Tony, the operative word being “legal.” That money is being given for past and/or future corruption. That is not capitalism and the fact that you would try to conflate the 2 is pathetic. Par for your course.

      6. Hey Tony, the operative word being “legal.” That money is being given for past and/or future corruption. That is not capitalism and the fact that you would try to conflate the 2 is pathetic. Par for your course.

  6. According to Yglesias, the former president should have rejected the speaking opportunity because progressives’ “Achilles heel” was the perception of corruption.

    Right, the perception of corruption…

    1. The appearance of the law must be maintained at all times. Especially when it is being broken.

  7. Hey, the leftosphere is being consistent. Let’s give them that.

  8. I wouldn’t say it’s “totally fine”.
    There’s a difference between illegal and totally ok.

    It’s entirely possible that corruption could be engendered by promises of future rewards in the form of paid speaking engagements.
    “We can’t pay your bribe now, but we can pay it after you leave office” is a totally possible thing.

    Whether it should be illegal to take ANY paid speaking engagements is a separate question, but we could certainly have laws that would make it illegal if it was discovered that the speaking engagement was a quid-pro-quo arrangement established via handshake agreement before the President left office.

    1. It’s painfully obvious that this is an instance quid pro quo.

      The problem is, and the broader point Ed is trying to make (but screws up by calling it “totally fine”), you can’t stop it with laws. The more laws you pass to fight campaign finance, money in politics, etc, all you achieve is driving it further underground or into more loopholes. It’s like trying to plug a sinking ship with your palms. It’s like trying to end drug abuse by putting people in rape cages for being caught with them. It’s like trying to reduce violent crime by prohibiting disfavored classes of weapons. Libertarians should know better.

      1. You mean laws aren’t magical? Say it ain’t so. Actually, Milton Friedman gave a great example of how the “incorruptible British civil servant” came to be – all the illegal things that opened the door to bribes and payoffs and other shenanigans were made legal, mostly smuggling.

      2. Yeah, the problem is that the government has too much power. Power engenders corruption. You can try to make bribes illegal, but ultimately the solution is to limit the government’s ability be the profit-maker.

      3. I don’t know about that.

        How about unlimited donations but you can only donate to campaigns where the politician would represent you?

        Meaning you can’t donate to any house race outside your own district. You can’t donate to any senate race outside your state. Every person can donate in presidential races.

    2. “All you have to do is get a majority in Congress on board for the policy we want. We’ll let you handle the election details.”

      1. All sorts of things can happen in the four years between elections.

    3. Sort of like when you hot-mic a conversation with a representative from Russia about how you’ll have more flexibility after the election…

      1. What’s the Blaze take on that again? I don’t get it. It’s a politician telling another politician an honest fact. Hardly Kissinger levels of realpolitik in that statement.

  9. These “make enough money” people sound like they don’t make enough money to understand.

    Here’s how it works: I make good money and I like what I do, and as soon as I don’t like what I do, or it’s no longer worth doing, I’ll stop completely.

    I don’t have some “money goal” that, once reached, I just start working for free because….people…or something. And, who should do that, really?

    It’s a total naivety.

  10. Let’s give the left a little credit here, tough as that statement is to write, for at least being consistent. Sure, it’s okay for Obama to get whatever someone is willing to pay, but it looks a bit odd after 8 years worth of contrarian rhetoric. Then again, with Obama it has always been useful to watch what he does, pretty much ignore what he says.

  11. Some liberals’ response to this has been annoying. I’m sure each and every one of them would turn down a $400,000/hour speaking gig on principle. I would ask them what did all their virtue signalling and whining about Hillary’s evil speechifying get them, in the end?

  12. What’s outrageous is that Canter Fitzgerald’s clients are, in effect, paying for Obama’s speech out of the fees they pay CF. I’m not a client, and now will never be. What will Obama have to say that is worth even $1,000?

    Maybe Trump can sponsor legislation to end the future presidential pensions as he obviously won’t need it.

    1. There is a supply and a demand for crocs and Kardashians. For some reason there is also supply and demand for speeches from former politicians. I can’t think of a more honest exercise in capitalism. Plus it’s tax deductible.

      1. Who are you, and what did you do with the real Tony?

        1. I’m wondering what happened to all the supposed libertarians. You know, the ones who don’t blink an eye at large-scale opportunities for corruption with respect to money and politics, who actively advocate for policies to make it as easy as possible, until a Democrat gives a paid speech somewhere.

          1. Teacher: Tony, you’re hearing but you’re not LISTENING.

            Tony takes ice-cream cone out of ear. ‘What’?

      2. “or some reason there is also supply and demand for speeches from former politicians. I can’t think of a more honest exercise in capitalism.”

        You should try harder.

  13. The problem with speaking fees that large is that it’s impossible to differentiate a fee from a bribe – which the Clinton’s used to pile up the wealth.

    1. Then it’s impossible to differentiate any fee for service from a bribe. Is William Shatner being bribed when he shows up to speak at a Star Trek convention?

      1. If he sings, yes.

      2. William Shatner was never able to control the IRS or the SEC.

        1. But unlike Obama he can time travel.

      3. My company leases spaces in medical offices. There are standards by which have to comply or else the lease would be considered an “inducement” (a bribe).

        I’ve never believed anyone was so fascinated by the words of Bill Clinton or anyone else that they would pay $400k to hear his drivel. It’s obviously buying access and possibly favors. With the Clintons at least, it was just an outright grift.

  14. Look, I have no problem with Obama getting $400,000 for a speech. It was inevitable that this would happen since he’s essentially a rock star to the left. He was always going to cash in big time after his Presidency and I think we all knew it. And so what if he does? That’s the rate people are willing to pay. (And damn the left for making me defend Obama, too.)

    What ‘access’ can he peddle at this point?

    The only amusing part of this whole equation is how the left has finally realized who Barak is. Every ‘Socialist’ leader, for all of time, has been corrupt and wanted more money and power for themselves. Why Barak was going to somehow be different was mostly because of his skin color and his mouth noises. I’m honestly not sure which factor played a bigger part. Sanders indicates that mouth noises alone are insufficient, but he was also running against a Clinton and the Democrat party uses Super delegates precisely to crush people like him. While I’m glad for that, it’s also pretty obvious that the Democrats are anything but on this point alone.

    1. Oh, and for those who are crapping all over Obama for this; you are the worst kind of partisans. It’s sad to watch people who are supposedly principled turn around and basically crap over everything they claim to stand for.

      You people have made Tony sound reasonable by comparison. Stop and think about that a moment.

      1. Pointing out the hypocrisy doesn’t mean he can’t do it. But this is the guy who said at some point you’ve made enough money. Kinda funny that that point for him is far above where he set the top marginal rate.

        1. There are plenty of examples above of people saying a lot more than that. If that’s all you’re saying than this doesn’t apply to you in particular.

          I absolutely agree regarding him saying one thing and doing another, but it seems some people have forgotten he’s no longer a public official and thus can do whatever he damn well pleases within the law.

          It is nice to see that there are also people above defending him, but I would have expected more people to realize this around here. It’s just disappointing, I guess, but I’m not sure what I really expected either.

          1. The charitable interpretations on reason tend to favor a certain political tilt. It would be nice to apply a bit more consistent standard.

          2. I agree he can do whatever he wants. I am also free to ask him if, at some point, he has made enough money.

  15. Who would waste 400k on hearing him speak? He would have gotten an F if he was in my communications class in college. He is a garbage speaker.

  16. If somebody wants to piss away $400k just to hear Obama drone through a speech somebody wrote for him, that’s none of my business. If he tries to pretend he’s just “regular folk” I’ll laugh in his face. If he or some other proggie gives me crap about wanting to keep the tiny amount of pay I get rather than cough it up for their stupid big government I’ll say “fuck off you hypocrite”.

    1. It’s not hypocrisy if he is willing to pay the tax rate he wanted to enforce on others. I highly doubt Obama ever said “dont make more money” . A lot of fatcat wallstreeters got away with their recklessness under Obama. Funny to see these guys whining about some accountability that the Congress is too chicken to enforce on them. I am actually very pro capitalism and am OK with less government. But capitalists need to pay up when they lose money for their companies or others.

  17. I have ZERO problems with him earning that money. If people are willing to throw good money to listen to vapidity go ahead be my guest. I just don’t like people who rail against free enterprise while in power and then love it when they’re out of it. Actually, I despise them.

    +1 You didn’t build that and capitalism doesn’t work.

    1. Earning money, lol, really? I don’t consider reading a speech and taking a few pictures as earning money. They basically make demands about what they want, show up and get a check. The speech has no value as he has no experience in banking, it is a payoff. Everyone knows it, but hey it is a legal one.

      1. Point taken.

  18. Putting aside all discussions about whether this should or should not be allowed, we should all agree:

    This post-presidency playbook the Dems have been trying is a PR nightmare and it’s stunning that Obama would start a foundation and give one of these speeches right after the base complained so much about a candidate who did these exact same things. It shows how out of touch the party has become under the leadership of the Clintons and Obamas and it does not bode well for their ability to put together a coherent message in time for the midterms or 2020 (other than “Trump is bad” of course)

    1. THere is a difference between obama and Hillary though. Obama is done with office, presumably. Hillary was running for office. So she has more to owe these benefactors. Plus she would not be transparent with her speeches.

  19. Let the left eat the left. He is just going to give them the finger anyway and take the money.

  20. If you build it they will buy it.

    But it’s not ‘totally ok’ for Obama to be doing what he’s doing given the rhetoric that he and his affiliated party are known for.

    It’s rank hypocrisy.

  21. No it’s not “fine”. This is an implicit quid pro quo for every other “civil servant” coming down the pike. Politicians no longer even care to be re-elected because if they serve in any powerful position they know they can expect to be rewarded after the fact. Obama’s obscene reward from bankers signals the same opportunity for everyone who follows.

  22. If it were just for the speech, that would be fine. But I think it’s generally understood that this sort of thing is a way to pay a politically connected person for his government influence on your behalf.

    I think ideally ex-politicians would have to live on their pension and any sort of income generated by speeches and books and serving on the board of companies and foundations was taxed at 100%

  23. So when are the democrats going to introduce a bill to reduce the deficit by imposing a 300% tax on all speech revenue received by ex-presidents?
    Oh, right.

  24. “Actually, It’s Totally Fine That Obama Is Being Paid $400,000 to Give a ‘Wall Street Speech”

    Actually, It’s Totally Fine That Putin Is Being Paid $400,000 to Give a ‘Oil Industry Speech’

    same?

  25. It’s also fine to call him a hypocrite for doing such activities as he criticized other people for doing it.

  26. til I saw the receipt that said $6460 , I did not believe …that…my mother in law wiz like they say actually earning money in their spare time from their computer. . there aunt started doing this for under thirteen months and recently clears the adepts on there mini mansion and blurt a great Aston Martin DBL . go to this website….
    ___________________________ https://www.paybuzz7.com

  27. The whole point of looking down on such gigs is whether it points to an indirect bribe. In Obama’s case, it is probably not and he is merely another political prostitute makoing money off of his celebrity status. What is fair though to see if Obama ever does favors to these people and gives them unfair access to government contacts – something that is sadly, way too common among politicians of both parties.

  28. That was tried, it was the Constitution.

  29. “The opposition to Obama’s speech among the Democratic base is fueled by two sentiments propagated by Democrats for years?that there was something wrong with Wall Street (a metonym for the finance industry) as a whole, and that there was such a thing as making enough money.”

    This isn’t it at all. At least, not in my mind. It’s that it fuels the perception of government being bought by Big Money (of which Wall Street is the poster child), and that Democrats want their leaders to be ideologically opposed to that, and also internally consistent about it (i.e., not hypocrites).

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