Some in the media are freaking out that former President Obama will be giving a speech to Wall Street in September. It makes for a nice payday: $400,000. The Washington Post pleaded with the president to rethink this decision, noting that it would be hypocritical due to Obama’s mostly anti-Wall Street rhetoric during his presidency. Moreover, it would only give Democrats more grief, with yet another party heavyweight cuddling up to Wall Street. They had one presidential campaign sunk partially due to the optics of paid speeches. Does Obama want to go down the same path and exacerbate the divide between the two wings of the party led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and DNC chair Tom Perez?
At Vox, Matt Yglesias warned that the $400,000 speech will “undermine everything he [Obama] believes in.”
In an unpaid speaking appearance earlier this week at the University of Chicago, Obama demonstrated his enduring faith in both the American people and his brand of politics. He explained that the progressive views of younger Americans give him hope and that he wants to make it the primary mission of his post-presidency to break down the barriers that dissuade young people from participating in political life.
It's a fine vision, one that successfully walks the line between post-presidential high-mindedness and partisan politics.
Obama should take seriously the message it sends to those young people if he decides to make a career out of buckraking. He knows that Hillary Clinton isn't popular with the youth cohort the way he is. And he knows that populists on both the left and the right want to make a sweeping ideological critique of all center-left politics, not just a narrow personal one of Clinton. Does Obama want them to win that battle and carry the day with the message that mainstream politics is just a moneymaking hustle?
Of course, it's just one speech. Nothing is irrevocable about one speech. But money doesn't get any easier to turn down with time, any more than rebuking friends and colleagues gets easier. To make his post-presidency a success, Obama should give this money to some good cause and then swear off these gigs entirely.
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
Obama, in Jan., on his post-presidency plans: "I'm not going to Wall Street" to "make a lot of money." pic.twitter.com/IQuSVKTxc1— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) April 26, 2017
Also, in that unpaid appearance in Chicago, Obama did mention the problem about money in politics. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, but to many—it’s one of the sources that polluted our politics. Yet, there’s nothing more entertaining than watching Democratic blood sports, so let’s hope Obama takes the money and runs. At the same time, this isn’t the first time the former president has been accused of hypocrisy. Obama is staunchly opposed to the Citizens United decision, though his team created a huge PAC to help his 2012 re-election prospects. Needless to say, it worked.